When patients come into the office with vaginitis, I always take a few moments at the end of the visit to review basic care and maintenance of the vagina. My recommendations are simple: less is more.
If only celebrities were giving the same advice. A few years ago, Cameron Diaz bragged about holding a friend down to trim her pubic hair, but she must have had a change of heart — in a book she wrote last year, Diaz dedicated a chapter to pubic hair and encouraged women not to permanently remove it. Thank you, Cameron.
Now, Gwyneth Paltrow is offering vaginal care advice on her lifestyle website, Goop. Paltrow’s latest obsession is called a V-Steam. It involves going to a spa and sitting on something that I imagine looks like a bidet and having herbal steam infused toward your vagina.
I use the phrase “toward your vagina” because unless this steam is streaming out like water from a faucet or there is some sort of tampon-like applicator that you insert into your vagina, there is no way much of that steam is getting inside. Anyone who has a basic understanding of female anatomy would comprehend this. The only lady parts getting steamed would be the labia and the perineum — probably not the vagina and definitely not the uterus, as Paltrow promises.
I investigated the website for the spa that Paltrow endorsed. Apparently, the idea behind the V-Steam is based on an ancient Korean practice called chai-yok.
The health benefits described in the spa’s list of V-Steam options was rather shocking. If this service could truly treat infertility, cure postpartum depression, increase breast milk production, promote weight loss, clear up acne, and regulate menstrual cycles, surely it would cost much more than $50 for thirty minutes. There wouldn’t be much need for gynecologists, either.
My real concern over Paltrow’s endorsement of the V-Steam is that some women listen to her and take what she says as fact — if Paltrow steams her vagina, it must be good for you. I worry that without access to a posh spa, some women will attempt a do-it yourself V-Steam at home, and this can only lead to trouble.
If the herbal steam actually does enter the vagina, there is a greater chance it would cause harm rather than offer any benefits. The vagina is like a fragile ecosystem that maintains its health with little to no assistance from the outside world. Once women start messing with the balance that keeps the vagina happy, they risk infection and irritation, hence my “less is more” advice.
Celebrity endorsed fads will unfortunately come and go. I’d prefer they’d stick to acting or fashion and leave the vaginal care to the professionals.
My advice remains the same: leave the vagina alone except for basic hygiene, don’t use harsh soaps, too much soap, or perfumed products. Skip the bubble baths. Wear cotton underwear during the daytime and no underwear at night. Most importantly, do not douche, even with steam, and especially not with herbal steam.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.