Women of America, please do not steam your vaginas.
I imagine that for most of you, this advice seems startlingly unnecessary. Like being told not to parboil your feet or have your elbows dry cleaned, presumably it would not occur to most of you to steam your genitals. Any woman with a lick of sense would probably not be inclined to have their vaginas steamed in the first place.
And then there’s Gwyneth Paltrow.
The Oscar winner and lifestyle maven has been touting the benefits of vaginal steam treatments on her GOOP website, your go-to destination for $40 underpants and tastefully mystical bromides. In singing the praises of holistic spa Tikkun, Paltrow enjoins her readers to get the Mugwort V-Steam.
“You sit on what is essentially a mini-throne,” she writes, “and a combination of infrared and mugwort steam cleanses your uterus, et al. It is an energetic release—not just a steam douche—that balances female hormone levels. If you’re in LA, you have to do it.”
Ladies of Los Angeles, you most certainly do not have to do this. Those of you who live elsewhere need not grieve your deprivation.
Let’s start with the idea that one’s uterus needs cleansing. (I’m a bit distracted by that “et al” there. Does Paltrow think her fallopian tubes are getting tidied up in the process, too?) It does not. The female reproductive tract does not need to be cleaned at all. In fact, methods of feminine cleansing like douching can do more harm than good. Women should no more steam their vaginas than flush them with Lysol.
Singing the praises of uterine cleansing is of a piece with Paltrow’s broader belief that various internal organs need help purging themselves of toxins. She is all about the cleanses. But none of these regimens have any scientific grounding, and your kidneys and liver don’t need the help. It’s great to avoid processed foods and excessive amounts of fat or sugar, but bankrupting yourself buying Charcoal Lemonade (yes, that’s right—Charcoal Lemonade) is pointless, no matter how delicious Paltrow says it is.
But what of those pesky female hormone levels? Do your pituitary glands and ovaries need a kick-start every now and then to keep things on an even endocrinological keel?
Perusing the menu of vaginal steam-cleaning services available at Tikkun, I was struck by how many and varied the benefits are claimed to be. In addition to helping with infertility, protecting the uterus from tumors, and simultaneously soothing and strengthening the nervous system, apparently V-Steams also kill intestinal worms. Given that the only plausible mechanism by which steams might accomplish this is by cooking them, that would involve cooking the large intestines, as well. I can’t sign off on that.
I was heartened to see that Tikkun does offer services for LA’s gentlemen, as well. The “A Steam” (I’ll let you guess what the “A” stands for) offers such benefits as clearing lactic acid and improving cardiovascular performance. While I suppose they could, in theory, heat up a fellow’s nether regions enough to get his heart rate significantly elevated, it doesn’t sound like a pleasant way to spend $50.
There is, of course, not a hint of scientific evidence provided for any of this. But asking for scientific citations at a holistic spa is rather like requesting chopsticks at an ice cream parlor: not only will they not have them, they won’t really understand why you’re asking in the first place. Sadly, without an actual study to back up Paltrow’s assertion that steaming her lady parts keeps female hormones in balance, you’re going to have to color me skeptical. (I’ll grant that their “warms the body” claims pass the common sense test.)
In her own eye-rolling take on Paltrow’s recommendation, OB/GYN Dr. Jennifer Gunter goes into further physiologic detail about why it’s best to avoid vaginal steaming.
“Steam is probably not good for your vagina. Herbal steam is no better and quite possibly worse. It is most definitely more expensive,” writes Dr. Gunter. “Steam isn’t going to get into your uterus from your vagina unless you are using an attachment with some kind of pressure and MOST DEFINITELY NEVER EVER DO THAT.” The emphasis is hers, but I endorse the all-caps.
Unlike some, I really don’t have anything against Gwyneth Paltrow, no matter how patently silly I consider her health advice. I thought her Oscar acceptance speech was classy and gracious, even though I was rooting for Cate Blanchett that year. I don’t really have the disposable income to buy most of the goodies she promotes on her website, but if you have $300 to shell out for sunglasses then be my guest.
However, please don’t steam your vagina, no matter how much she tells you that you must. It won’t accomplish anything but separate you from a tidy sum of money, and your reproductive system doesn’t need the help.