The Ancient Practice of Vaginal Steaming for Holistic Self-Care and Wellness – Part 1

A 2-Part Comprehensive Overview Of Vaginal Steaming

Overview Of Vaginal SteamingI got my first period before Google. I read Teen Magazine, would listen to my older cousin’s stories about girls bleeding through their pants at school, and occasionally thumbed through an outdated “Our Bodies, Ourselves” book my mom gave me. My high school friends and I considered our monthly bleed to be a huge inconvenience. When I got to college, my roommates excitedly discovered that our campus health center offered “free” birth control pills. We all went on them for the first time without any birth control education, aside from whispers from upperclassmen that you could skip your period by not taking the pink pills.

I bring this all up to say I knew nothing foundational about my monthly cycle as a young woman, and the cultural tone was (and still is) that we wanted it to go away. Guess what? If you completely ignore the rhythmic nature of your uterus, body, and hormone cycles, it does NOT go away. It gets louder! It will continue to get louder and louder until you decide to listen in and honor its needs.

What do I mean by loud? I mean unwell! Uncomfortable! For me, after years of compounded stress and neglect, this eventually meant bleeding every two weeks due to a sizable endometrial polyp. I had to have surgery to clear my womb of the irregular growth. I felt lucky to get my 28 day cycle back, and started celebrating this as a critical vital sign each month. I then committed myself to practices that supported my physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, and in turn, my menstrual cycle. Perhaps the most life-changing of these practices for me was, you guessed it, vaginal steaming.

jessica healing hands essential aspects of vaginal steamingAfter experiencing the transformative effects of vaginal steaming firsthand, I founded LEIAMOON with my husband Andrew to spread awareness about the practice. As a licensed architect and former professor at Parsons School of Design, I used my design skills to bring the LEIAMOON brand and product line to life, focusing on a home electronic steam seat to make this ancient self-care practice more easily accessible to all women. Meanwhile, Andrew’s background in law and business have helped us navigate the challenges of growing our startup and serving our rapidly growing community. Together, we’re on a mission to spread awareness about vaginal steaming and its empowering benefits for women’s health and well-being.

In this comprehensive two-part blog, I will cover all the essential aspects of vaginal steaming:

Part 1:

  • Definition of vaginal steaming
  • Overview of the practice
  • History of vaginal steaming, including its origins and traditional uses and beliefs
  • Reasons why women steam during different life stages, including menstruators, those in their childbearing years, and those going through menopause
  • Benefits of vaginal steaming during different life stages

Part 2:

  • Common myths and misconceptions about vaginal steaming
  • Potential dangers associated with vaginal steaming
  • Debunking myths about vaginal steaming
  • Different methods of vaginal steaming, including traditional methods, spa experiences, modified sitz baths, and yoni steam seats
  • How to steam at home, including preparation, herbs, and steaming instructions

What is vaginal steaming?

hands with herbs What is vaginal steaming?Vaginal steaming, also known as yoni or womb steaming, is an ancient self-care practice that women have used for thousands of years. It involves sitting or squatting over a pot of steaming water infused with herbs to promote warmth, relaxation, and a deeper relationship with the body.

The reasons you might choose to steam are myriad and generally fit within the scope of reproductive health self-care. Recently, more women are discovering and sharing their experiences with vaginal steaming, and the practice is gaining a new surge in popularity.

Vaginal steaming has been around for centuries and passed down through maternal lineages in cultures all over the world. Experts estimate it could be anywhere from four thousand to fourteen thousand years old or more. Historical accounts of vaginal steaming are well-documented in Eastern nations like Korea and Indonesia, as well as traditional Maya cultures. Steam bathing, including vaginal steaming, dates back to at least the late Pleistocene era in Northeast Asia and likely spread through Central and South America after migrating to North America over the Bering Strait. Reports of the practice in African cultures, where it may also have originated, also exist but are less documented in scientific literature. One of the most famous advocates of steaming claims it is as common in Central America “as drinking peppermint tea.”

The most well-documented traditional uses for vaginal steaming include postpartum healing, menstrual cycle regulation, and as a general form of reproductive health maintenance. It’s believed that moist heat from the steam can help to increase circulation and promote healing, while the herbs added can provide additional therapeutic benefits.

3 Reasons to Vaginal Steam

If you’re new to the practice, you’re probably asking yourself Why in the world would I want to steam my vagina?

Here’s my big, overarching WHY:

We’re living in an era where the world is waking up to the importance of respecting the female body, mind, and spirit. This involves prioritizing care for your female anatomy, specifically your vagina and womb space, which are your most sensitive areas and where new life is created. Your cycles are indicators of your overall well-being and it’s crucial to give these parts of yourself the attention they deserve. It’s time to shift from a mindset of fear and neglect around this space to one of empowerment and reverence.

Vaginal steaming creates an opportunity for you to easily open yourself up, both physically and emotionally, and allow soothing and comfort into an otherwise tightly guarded space. The feeling of warm, aromatic steam on your vagina can be calming, cleansing, grounding, meditative, rejuvenating, and cathartic. It’s a simple, beautiful way to tune-in and care for the most vulnerable and sensitive part of your body.

Beyond this value as an elemental self-care ritual, there are many more specific reasons you may want to steam depending on your current life phase, goals, and relationship to your menstrual cycle. I’m going to break this down into categories: 1) You’re a menstruating woman; 2) You’re in a childbearing phase; 3) You’re approaching or have entered into menopause.

Reason #1: You’re a Woman With a Menstrual Cycle

feminine-care-heart. So, you have a period. What does that mean exactly?So, you have a period. What does that mean exactly?

Something I’ve learned along the way in my research is that “period” is a pretty loaded term, historically speaking.

The period is known to have been associated in many cultures with shame, uncleanliness, and sickness… and the etymological origins of the word itself refer to it as a cycle of a recurrence of a disease. But as we all know, there is nothing inherently dirty, shameful, or sickly about a period.

So what is it actually? Your menstrual cycle is the process your body goes through each month to prepare for a possible pregnancy, which includes the period. Unless you are pregnant, you shed the lining of your uterus by way of bleeding each month, before the lining builds back up again. Your “period” is really a monthly uterine cleanse. And that’s the term I prefer to use for it.

I bring up this bit of semantics because it makes so much more sense in the context of vaginal steaming to understand your menstrual cycle through this lens. You want your body functioning normally and naturally at its best. And part of that is having a healthy, comfortable, fully functioning uterine cleanse (not a “periodic illness”)!

One of the main things vaginal steaming can do is complement this natural monthly process by facilitating the release of stagnant matter from the uterus or vaginal canal by increasing circulation to and relaxing the pelvic area. In a recent interview I did with Keli Garza, founder of the Peristeam Hydrotherapy Institute, she shared her meticulous documentation of hundreds of women’s vaginal steaming experiences. Many women reported that after steaming, or during the ensuing menstrual cycle, some type of material is released that had previously been left behind. This expelled matter can vary in appearance, from dark and coagulated to bright and gooey, but the common thread among these reports is that it ultimately led to a healthier, more effective uterine cleanse.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. From menstrual flow concerns to vaginal dryness, endometriosis, painful periods, PCOS, pelvic floor issues, fibroids, clotting, irregular discharge, excess cervical mucus, spotting, and more, the list of specific issues around the menstrual cycle that women have reported great results with from vaginal steaming is vast and continues to grow.

The bottom line? Whatever your current relationship is to your cycle, if you’re a menstruating woman, regular vaginal steaming can help you achieve a healthier cycle and a more efficient uterine cleanse. If your menstrual cycle is less than 26 days or more than 32 days long, varies by more than 4 days per month, requires you to change pads or tampons or cup more than 6 times in a day, brings you to your knees with pain, has made you dependent on pain pills, and/or makes you feel emotionally off your rocker, know that this is not normal. Listen to what your body is saying, and know that pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and other conventional medical procedures aren’t the only solutions out there.

Reason #2: You’re In A Childbearing Phase

Pregnancy and childbirth are major life events that involve three distinct phases: preparing to conceive, giving birth, and postpartum recovery.

Each phase requires distinct levels of preparation and care.

The first phase of childbearing involves preparing to conceive. For many couples, getting pregnant can be a difficult and emotional process that requires patience, planning, and often medical intervention. In this phase, women may explore alternative health and wellness practices to support their fertility journey, such as vaginal steaming.

The second phase is giving birth, which can be a physically and emotionally intense experience. Women have been seeking alternative health and wellness practices to prepare for labor and to support postpartum recovery, including the historical and current use of vaginal steaming for labor preparation and postpartum recovery.

Finally, there is the postpartum phase, which is a critical period of recovery for new mothers. During this phase, women may encounter physical and emotional challenges as they adjust to life with a newborn.

In the following sections, we will delve into the potential benefits and risks of vaginal steaming at each phase of childbearing.

pregnant belliesTrying to Get Pregnant

First of all, it’s no secret that stress affects your reproductive system!

This can include interfering with your sex drive, increasing vaginal discharge and/or dryness during sex, causing infections, and directly affecting your ovulation.

Vaginal steaming is a calming, meditative experience that helps to counter the environmental, emotional, and physical stressors that create these negative effects. In this regard alone, the benefits are very real. Experts agree that when you’re trying to conceive, the less stress, the better!

Steaming also has the added benefit of connecting your conscious mind with your womb space, which beautifully complements fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) for conceiving. These are widely recognized ways of tracking your menstrual cycle to pinpoint when you will be the most fertile. Research has shown FABMs to be remarkably effective for couples trying to conceive, and many cutting-edge fertility clinics recommend vaginal steaming as a complementary practice to this method.

brain uterus diagram

Copyright Dana N. Joseph and Shannon Whirledge 2017

The primary assertion is that steaming can act as a “uterine lavage” that cleanses the uterus to prepare for egg implantation.   Additionally, by way of diluting and softening the cervical tissue prior to intercourse, it can help to create a lubricated path for semen to travel through the cervix. And that’s just using steaming as a tool to complement your natural cycle. Furthermore, there are even more specific ways that some specialists recommend to use vaginal steaming in concert with other fertility-enhancement methods like ovulation induction, in vitro fertilization, an intrauterine insemination.

In summary, the relaxation benefits, increased fertility awareness, and the warming, cleansing, and softening effects of vaginal steaming can all play a role in preparing for an optimal pregnancy.

Giving Birth

As a general rule, experts agree that you should not vaginal steam while you’re pregnant.

Since one of the primary functions of steaming is to help cleanse the uterus, that’s obviously something you do not want to do if you have a baby in there, gestating.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the v-steam community at large is abuzz about one possible exception to this rule, which is steaming for labor preparation. The idea here is that when the baby is ready for birth, you want good circulation to your womb, a lubricated path for the newborn to emerge, soft pliable skin to prevent tearing and to encourage opening, and to be fully relaxed—all things that vaginal steaming can help with.

Like vaginal steaming in general, this isn’t a new idea either. A French obstetrics medical journal documenting the history of childbirth practices showed that steaming for labor was a known practice in Africa in 1887.

African woman steaming 1887There are many midwives and other practitioners who offer steams precisely for this reason today, and many mothers who swear by its effectiveness. The Czech Republic, a nation that has been leading the charge in integrating traditional midwifery into modern obstetrics practice, currently has multiple hospitals that offer vaginal steaming services during childbirth.

I’m sharing this one with the caveat that this is not medical advice and you should absolutely consult with your certified care provider before attempting to steam for labor preparation. But in short, it is both a historically documented and currently growing use for vaginal steaming.

 

Postpartum

Vaginal steaming after childbirth is possibly the oldest reason for the practice on record.

In an extensive study conducted for the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” in the early 2000s, researchers examined the traditional herbal vaginal steaming practice known as “Bakera” in Indonesia. In Bakera, vaginal steaming is used by women to “to feel fresh, clean and at ease” after childbirth. 

The researchers followed 14 different midwives administering traditional vaginal steams using a wide variety of plants for 166 women spread across several villages in Indonesia. In doing so they logged both thermotherapeutic and aromatherapeutic results for the new mothers, including soothing of muscular strain, edema relief, and alleviating constipation and loss of appetite; as well as “immunostimulant, antiseptic, and antiphlogistic” effects.

Modern advocates of postpartum steaming have found evidence of a host of more precise benefits from steaming after childbirth. The best example of this is the 2019 Fourth Trimester Vaginal Steam Study, where a small group of postpartum participants were divided into a control group (no steaming) and a group that received vaginal steams at various intervals after childbirth. The results showed that steaming had a positive impact on a number of indicators for postpartum recovery, including lowering of blood pressure and pulse, uterine restoration, labia healing, expedited expulsion of lochia, alleviating suture discomfort, and hemorrhoid reduction.

Taylor R TestimonialWhile there is much work to be done in the realm of further scientific investigation into the effects of postpartum steaming, these initial results are promising. That being said, the anecdotal reports continue to pile up, and there are plenty of midwives, birth doulas, and yes, even OBGYN’s out there who offer postpartum vaginal steaming services to their clients. I’ve interviewed a few of them myself!

With the caveats of general safety precautions and some specific contraindications, traditional wisdom, modern studies, and the experiential knowledge of countless mothers point to postpartum vaginal steaming as an “effective and safe method for recuperation after childbirth.

Miscarriage

***Because at least 10 to 15% of all known pregnancies end in miscarriage, the benefits of vaginal steaming to recover from pregnancy loss should also be mentioned. After pregnancy loss, steaming can help the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy state with more ease and comfort. Its meditative quality may also help you mentally as you grieve and process.

Reason #3: You’re Moving into Menopause

If you’ve been through menopause, you know that vaginal dryness, increased stress, hormonal shifts, weakening pelvic floor muscles, and loss of sexual appetite can be par for the course in this phase of womanhood. 

Case studies and reports from perimenopausal and menopausal women have shown that steaming can effectively moisturize, tone, cleanse excess cervical fluid, increase libido, and encourage deeper sleep, among other benefits. 

One of my favorite v-steam experts, Dr. Rosita Arvigo, refers to it as an “excellent technique to continue for the rest of our lives in order to prevent pathologies after menopause,” and further elaborates that even months or years after the last menstrual cycle, steaming can cleanse the uterus of stagnant matter:

“I had that experience myself. I had not been menstruating; I was postmenopausal and still doing vaginal steams, and for three cycles in a row I was still passing fluid from my uterus. So we know that if that stays inside it can only harden and then indurate right into the wall of the uterus…. Most women who are menopausal or postmenopausal may not have menstruated for a year or two; when they try the vaginal steam they’re absolutely shocked to see that there were fluids left inside the uterus.”

Additionally, the meditative nature of the practice, its aromatherapeutic properties, and the increased mind-womb space connection are all effective tools to help you manage the general stress that accompanies going through menopause and beyond.

To recap: Vaginal steaming is a practice where you sit or squat over a steaming pot of water infused with herbs that are beneficial for your reproductive health. It’s been around for centuries and has been used by many cultures around the world. As more women discover and share their experiences, we’re continually learning more about all that this grounding self-care practice has to offer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog where I’ll cover the objections and myths around vaginal steaming, the variety of different steaming methods, and how you can easily steam at home.

Summary

Vaginal steaming is a practice where you sit or squat over a steaming pot of water infused with herbs that are beneficial for your reproductive health. It’s been around for centuries and has been used by many cultures around the world.

Here, again, are the most important life-stage reasons to consider steaming:

  1. For menstruating women, vaginal steaming can be a powerful tool to connect with your body and better understand your cycles, shifting the mindset from fear and neglect to empowerment and reverence.
  2. For women in a childbearing phase, vaginal steaming provides a nurturing and supportive practice that can help maintain overall well-being during this important life stage.
  3. For women approaching or entering menopause, vaginal steaming offers a gentle and soothing way to care for the body as it undergoes significant changes.

As more women discover and share their experiences, we’re continually learning more about all that this grounding self-care practice has to offer.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog where I’ll cover the objections and myths around vaginal steaming, the variety of different steaming methods, and how you can easily steam at home.