Why pay someone $300 to touch your vagina when you can touch it yourself? That’s the question that San Francisco Bay Area OB/GYN and writer Dr. Jennifer Gunter would ask anyone who is thinking about dropping a few Benjamins on a tantric “yoni massage.”
These erotic massages have been around for decades, offered by sensual new-agey masseuses and masseurs in a major metropolis near you. But after a recent Women’s Health article drew attention the practice, gossip mags and tabloids have declared them a “craze” that is on “rise.” Even if that’s true, there’s no good reason to drop your pants and jump on the bandwagon.
“Isn’t that what your sex partners are for?” Dr. Gunter joked when The Daily Beast asked about yoni massages, which are named after the Sanskrit word for “place of birth.”
Kidding aside, yoni massages do involve the same exact kind of sensual touching that most women find necessary to have an orgasm. Sarah Ratchford, who tried getting one for Cosmo, described having her labia majora rubbed, then her clitoris, and ultimately, the inside of her vagina, G-spot included. It’s not unheard-of for women to climax during these sessions, as one masseuse named Isis Phoenix confirmed to Women’s Health. But if that’s true, then good sex or masturbation should also do the trick.
“Yes, massaging the lower genital tract is pleasurable,” said Dr. Gunter. “Physical stimulation in that area is how most women achieve orgasm. However, most women do this with a partner or—if they don’t have a partner or don’t care to have one at the moment—they use their hands or a vibrator.”
Three hundred dollars may fall far short of the price tag on Gwyneth Paltrow’s $15,000 gold-plated dildo but it’s enough to buy a pretty terrific vibrator. And the methods for finding pleasurable ways of touching yourself don’t cost a dime. Dr. Gunter recommends sex educator Betty Dodson’s website as an affirming, sex-positive resource for women who want to perform their own, at-home “yoni massages.”
So why would you pay an expert for a good old-fashioned genital rubdown? Phoenix told Women’s Health that a tantric yoni massage can “cleanse” you and help you release emotions that are “stuck” in your vagina. But as, Dr. Gunter notes that those claims bear an eerie resemblance to Victorian-era psychoanalytic theories about female sexuality.
“This sounds a lot like the 1800s when women who were ‘frustrated’ visited a doctor to have their ‘hysteria’ treated with masturbation by a professional,” she said.
Incidentally, the notion that women suffered from hysteria, a poorly defined disorder with a laundry list of symptoms, led to the creation of the modern-day vibrator. Doctors would treat female “hysterics” by massaging them until they reached orgasm. Sound familiar? The practice came to a head in the late 19th-century when doctors started using steam-powered and electromechanical machinery to save their hands the trouble.
During Ratchford’s yoni massage for Cosmo, she decided to stop after the masseuse entered her vagina. The masseuse reportedly told her that meant she was “emotionally blocked.” Paging Dr. Freud.
Yoni massages are just the latest in a long line of unnecessary and sometimes dangerous vaginal trends. Before she recommended a sex toy that cost as much as a car, Gwyneth Paltrow endorsed vaginal steaming, which is a bad idea. Earlier this year, bloggers drew attention to herbal satchels designed to be stuffed inside your vagina. That’s a bad idea, too.
At this point, Dr. Gunter has become the go-to source for advising women to avoid weird genital crazes—she has blogged about both trends—and she suspects she’ll have to wear that mantle for a while longer yet.
“Even though we are in the age of information, there is still so much misinformation about sex,” she said.
Ultimately, she fears that these trends crop up because women aren’t finding enough satisfaction in their own sex lives. Sex research shows that most women do not regularly orgasm from vaginal intercourse alone. So if you’re not getting manual or oral stimulation at home, Dr. Gunter speculates, it makes sense that your interest might be piqued by a masseuse offering a solution.
“Foreplay isn’t twist-a-nipple and stick-it-in, so I think if you are not having satisfying sexual experiences and these sites pop up, it is natural to look and wonder if that could help you,” she said.