Q: Is there any good reason to do vaginal steaming?
A: Absolutely none. This alternative health “treatment” isn’t supported by scientific research and could potentially cause significant problems, such as burns, rashes, or infections.
It typically involves sitting or squatting over steaming water infused with herbs, often on a special stool with a hole through which the steam passes. It can also be done while a woman lies on her back with a steam tube positioned near the vulva. Among the popular herbs used are rosemary, basil, wormwood, mugwort, oregano, chamomile, and calendula. These herbs, especially mugwort, have been used in traditional medicine as remedies for “female complaints,” including menstrual cramps.
Vaginal steaming is sometimes referred to as V-steaming or yoni steaming. Yoni is a Sanskrit word meaning any of the female sex organs or all of them collectively. It can also denote a stylized representation of a vulva that symbolizes the feminine aspect of the divine in Hinduism.
The practice became trendy after Gwyneth Paltrow touted its alleged benefits on her website Goop and other celebrities like model Chrissy Teigen reported trying it. Proponents claim it “revitalizes” the uterus, cleans the vagina, eases menstrual cramping and heavy bleeding, boosts libido, and balances sex hormones. It has also been promoted as a treatment for hemorrhoids, headaches, fatigue, depression, stress, and digestive ills.
But there’s no published evidence to back up any of these claims. Physiologically they don’t even make sense. Steam can’t make its way up the vagina and into the uterus. The vagina itself is self-cleaning, so there’s no need for steaming, washing, rinsing, sanitizing, or any other kind of externally administered housekeeping.
What’s more, exposure to hot steam, especially if it’s prolonged, could dry out the vulva and vagina by breaking down the skin’s lipid barriers. It may also cause worse problems, as detailed in a 2019 case study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. A 62-year-old woman engaged in vaginal steaming in an attempt to help correct her vaginal prolapse, in which the cervix protrudes through the vaginal opening. She ended up with second-degree burns to her vagina and cervix.
Women who are pregnant have an especially elevated risk of serious problems from V-steaming. Exposure to high temperatures (such as those also experienced in saunas or hot tubs) raises a pregnant woman’s core body temperature, which can put added strain on her heart and possibly pose a risk to the fetus. It can also lead to dehydration and fainting.