Things Not to Do to Your Vagina: Vaginal Steaming

    Dr. Leah Millheiser, MD Headshot
    Medically reviewed by Leah Millheiser, MD Written by Our Editorial Team Last updated 9/20/2019

    Let's talk about vaginal steaming, aka yoni steaming, aka the V-steam and let us not forget chai-yok and bajos. It’s called by many names and depending on where you look it’s either an ancient remedy used for centuries to help bring “balance” to your lady parts, or the latest trend in self-care. 

    But what you really need to know about this quirky practice: is it real? 

    Like so many health trends, vaginal steaming is surrounded by hype, hooplah and very few actual facts. Getting to the truth of what it is and what it’s good for (if anything) requires some serious web sleuthing. 

    If you’re searching the web hoping someone will convince you to get your vagina steamed, you’ll find that Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and any number of new age health websites paint v-steaming as crucial to your reproductive (and spiritual) health. But if you want the facts — grounded in research and science — you’ll have a harder time. 

    Fortunately, we’ve done some digging and consulted experts for you. So buckle up; we’re about to break down vaginal steaming in an honest way. 

    TL;DR: What You Need to Know About V-Steaming 

    • Vaginal steaming involves sitting naked over a mixture of hot or boiling water and herbs, allowing the steam to rise to your vagina. 
    • Claims of vaginal steaming health benefits are largely unfounded. 
    • The history of vaginal steaming and related practices is difficult to trace. 
    • Much of what is known about global vaginal steaming suggests it was traditionally done to tighten or dry out the vagina. 
    • A 2016 analysis of vaginal steaming coverage suggests proponents of the activity are purporting a damaging myth: that women, and particularly women’s sexual organs, are dirty and in need of fixing. 
    • Vaginal steaming could be dangerous and actually increase the risk of vulvovaginal burns and infection. 

    What is Vaginal (Yoni) Steaming?

    Vaginal steaming involves sitting over a pot of hot or boiling liquid and allowing the steam to flow up to your genitals. Generally, the liquid is a mixture of water and herbs such as wormwood and mugwort, which according to practitioners can accomplish a variety of tasks including balancing your hormones, cleansing your vagina and uterus and even improving fertility. 

    V-steams usually happen in a spa setting and when found in Korean spas where they’re referred to as chai-yok. 

    The History and Global Practices of V-Steaming 

    This is where things get tricky. If you’re to believe proponents of vaginal steaming, it’s been practiced around the world since ancient times. Finding actual evidence of these practices, however, is difficult, if not impossible. 

    We found a few: 

    Vaginal fumigation, or steam forced through a tube and into the vagina, was once popular, according to the authors of The Medieval Vagina, a book that look at historical vaginal practices of the Middle Ages. 

    Like v-steaming of current day, the steam was a concoction of water and herbs. At the time, the practice was prescribed for infections, menstrual cramps and even cancer. Needless to say, vaginas were burned and the practice actually caused more infections than it cured. 

    Fumigation, or inserting steam into the vagina, was also an ancient tool used to determine if a woman was a virgin. The Greeks believed steam inserted into the vagina could travel all the way to a woman’s mouth and nose if she had been devirginized by way of "the hodos," an uninterrupted passageway that runs from the nose and mouth to the vagina. Totally realistic, right?

    References to vaginal steaming as a Korean practice seem to originate (online, at least), with this 2010 article from Time. Many proponents of the practice quote the spa owners cited in this article, accepting their claim that it assisted in the conception of their child. 

    A study by the World Health Organization looked at vaginal traditions in South Africa, Indonesia, Mozambique and Thailand and found it relatively common in some areas — particularly after childbirth — and affirmed the practice in Mozambique was largely intended to tighten the vagina for male pleasure. 

    An ethnobotanical study carried out in Trinidad also found some women using herbal vaginal steaming post-partum. While the study doesn’t go into specifics, because it’s used after delivery, we will venture a guess it’s being used to tighten the vagina.

    Not quite the empowering history cited by some websites.  

    The Truth About Vaginal Steaming Benefits and Risks

    There are no proven benefits to steaming your vagina. Because of the anatomy of your vagina, very little steam will actually enter your body by merely sitting over a pot of steamy infusions. So, suggestions that v-steaming can improve uterine or internal health are suspect, unfounded and potentially dangerous. 

    Claims that vaginal steaming is good for cleanliness or to prevent infections are also misleading. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. If anything, high temperatures could harm the balance of good bacteria that actually fight infections and make you more vulnerable to things such as yeast and bacterial infections — like bacterial vaginosis. And let’s just say we don’t think sitting on vaginal steaming stools shared by others in a spa setting helps matters. 

    Additionally, a very hot vaginal steam could cause burning. If you feel anything more than pleasant warmth, the steam could be too hot, potentially leading to injury, which would further increase your risk of infection. 

    In a nutshell: There is no peer-reviewed scientific data to support the reported benefits of vaginal steaming and there are some potential risks, including burns to the vulva and vagina and vaginal infection. 

    If a woman is concerned about an abnormal vaginal discharge or odor, she should consult with her clinician rather than follow unfounded trends on the internet which can put her health at risk.

    Parting Words 

    In short, there are no proven benefits to steaming your vagina. In fact, it can be risky. Suggestions that it’s an age-old practice are short-sighted, if not completely flawed. In many cases, it seems vaginal steaming was used to debase women for the benefit of men. 

    As a parting note, it’s worth pointing out that the companies appealing to women to have vaginal steams are using harmful approaches and words. 

    A 2016 analysis of news and magazine articles, spa and service provider websites, personal blogs and more found that there were several themes in common when promoting yoni steaming. The first: “the naturally deteriorating, dirty female body.” 

    Like vaginal douching, vaginal steaming seems to imply a harmful, albeit steadfast and common adage: that women, and women’s vaginas in particular, are dirty. Or, as the researchers put it: “Online accounts of vaginal steaming appear both to fit within historico-contemporary constructions of women’s bodies as deficient and disgusting…”

    Pair this with the risks involved in vaginal steaming, and we think this is one trend that is best left alone.

    This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. The information contained herein is not a substitute for and should never be relied upon for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.