We decided to bring the ever-charming Amelia back to write a little piece on something we’re both fascinated and horrified by…vaginal steaming.
The day I ordered my first vaginal steaming kit was also the first time my three-year-old nephew noticed his testicles. My sister-in-law texted me the news, complete with laughing emojis, that the lil guy had been taking a bath when he made the anatomical discovery and yelled, “Get off! Don’t want!”
I saw the text just as I was poring over a v-steam site called The Tulip and contemplating a statement on the homepage that read: “Loving your vagina is a revolution.” My knee-jerk reaction to such a sentiment was, okaaay… settle down. Being good with your lady parts doesn’t exactly make you Mahatma Gandhi of the muff. But when I considered my feelings toward my own vagina, I realized I hadn’t really thought about it (Her? What’s the proper pronoun here? I don’t even know what she prefers!!). Sure, I deal with my monthly menstrual maintenance, but I do that with the same level of emotion I put into pumping gas. Had I been cold and unnurturing to my reproductive parts? I decided to treat my neglected vagina to a v-steam from the Tulip and get this relationship back on track.
A little about this whole steaming business: vaginal steaming, also known as yoni steaming (yoni is the sanskrit word for vagina), involves disrobing from the waist down and sitting over a steeping pot of herbs. The idea, according to the Tulip, is “to bring vitality, balance, and well-being to the vagina and the entire pelvic region.” The purported benefits include easing cramping, regulating periods, increasing fertility, mending vaginal tissue after birth, cleansing the uterus, and helping to heal fibroids and cysts. So full steam ahead, right?
Well, hold your hot pots. The subject has become somewhat controversial in recent years. Both Gwyneth Paltrow and Chrissy Teigen have made headlines for steaming, thus kicking up major backlash and a slew of precautionary articles. Critics of the practice warn of risks such as burns from sitting too close to the water, skin irritation from the herbs, and the potential to disrupt vaginal pH levels.
All of this to say, it’s not everyone’s cup of mugwort. I, however, was game to give it a try. So when my package arrived the following week, my pussy was pumped. The herbal mix came in a clear cellophane bag and looked a lot like a package of potpourri. I actually left it on a table in my living room for a full week, it was so pretty. Tulip’s founders, Kiana and Kaylah Reeves, also sent a handwritten note saying I should email them with any questions – I already felt like I was part of a steaming society.
But after debating what pot to use to heat the beaver blend (my mac n’ cheese saucepan or my hard-boiled eggs crock), I hit pause on the whole operation. Call me old fashioned, but I wanted my virginal v-steam to be special. So instead, I decided to book an appointment with a pro for my first time and then go the DIY route (with a brand-new pot) for any future treatments.
Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, where you better believe you can find a v-steam on a spa menu (you can also find vajacials, vajazzling, and even a gestational psychic for expecting moms). I opted for a spot that opened just this month – a “beauty concept bar” in downtown called The Things We Do. Aesthetically, I knew I was in the right place from the moment I walked through the door (wearing a Rachel Antonoff uterus sweatshirt, to boot). The space was all blush tones and rounded edges, mirrors and wall dividers cut into hourglass shapes. I have no idea what brief the interior designers received, but I imagine it went something like, “Build a womb… but make it fashion.”
Daphne Lim – acupuncturist, herbalist, and resident steam queen – walked me to my treatment room, where I immediately spotted a wooden stool with a hole in the center and a hot plate below – the yoni seat. She asked what my goals were for the session and I considered requesting to ovulate golden eggs, but instead replied, “What are the options?”
“Well, some women may want to address fibroid issues, while other are looking for a cleanse,” she explained. “I can adjust the herbal mix accordingly.”
“I just want to make my vagina happy,” I told her.
“Excellent,” she said and left me to slip into a robe and apply a three-step hydrating SkinEsque mask. I lounged with my mask and Daphne soon returned with my blend: mugwort leaf, lavender, rosemary, rose, and dong quai (aka “female ginseng”). After situating the pot on the hot plate and making sure the temperature was just right, she told me it was time to move to the steaming seat. As for how long I could vape my v, she suggested I stay for at least 15 minutes, but said I was free to stay a full hour – I settled on 40 minutes and set a timer on my phone. Then, Daphne excused herself and I was left alone with my vagina.
“Well well well, if these uterine walls could talk,” I thought to myself. Immediately, I flashed back to sixth-grade sex ed, when, in an effort to impress a boy whose claim to fame was stuffing three whole Fruit Roll-Ups into his mouth at once, I pointed to a diagram of the uterus and said, “Sick. Looks like a creepy goat head.” “Totally,” he said with a smirk. Even then, at the tender age of 11, I felt a pang of guilt for betraying my gender. I remembered my first period, two years later, when I sobbed in the shower and then nearly murdered my labia by blunt force as I rammed tampons against my skin in a panic before ballet class (“They go inside?!” I exclaimed after finally reading the little direction booklet in the Tampax box).
I reflected on the summer of 2001, three solid months in which I sat around in a wet bathing suit while I worked as a camp counselor, and shuddered at all the synthetic-fabric thongs I bought at Ross during college because I was too lazy to do my laundry. Then there were my 20s in NYC… oh god. A co-worker at a magazine told me that “even nice girls from the Midwest should groom like porn stars.” After that, I’d fork over 20 bucks to anyone with a vat of hot wax in a nail salon to keep my pubes from outing me as a social leper.
In my 30s, I hadn’t given my vagina much thought, which I considered a good thing. A lucky thing. I figured as long as she kept everything running smoothly and didn’t give me much lip (zing), we were good. I’d need her to blend in and chill out until the day I’d call upon her to painlessly stretch to five times her regular size (childbirth) and then instantly snap back to normal. All of this, I realized, was wildly unfair to my vagina. “Mea culpa,” I whispered into my robe.
My emotional journey with my vagina aside, the steaming felt really good, like the closest you could get to giving your cervix a hug. I texted my boyfriend a pic of my face while sitting on the stool and he wrote back immediately, “Wow! You’re glowing!” It’s astounding what a little steam heat to your undercarriage can do for your whole complexion.
The 40 minutes flew by and soon I had to towel off and get dressed. But, I wasn’t done with my vagina yet. After thanking Daphne and perusing the products for sale in the waiting area (get your Fur Oil here – yes, that’s a silky salve for your pubic hair), I decided to treat myself to a pelvis-empowering lunch. Quicker than you can wax a landing strip, I was sitting at Rappahannock Oyster Bar with a dozen marine mollusks (good for libido), avocado toast (avocados help create natural lubrication), and a glass of red wine (another libido booster). When I finished the first glass, the bartender poured me another free of charge. “Maybe she’s born with it,” I thought to myself. “Maybe it’s vaginal steaming…”
My genitals were radiating positivity, so much so that a rainy morning had transformed into a sunny afternoon and as I made my way to my car, a kombucha vendor handed me a free bottle (vaginas also love kombucha for its probiotic and pH-balancing properties). I knew what I had to do next: there was a 50-foot glowing uterus on the Sunset Strip calling my name.
I arrived just as the sun began to set and the sky turned cotton-candy shades of pink and blue against Champ, artist Zoë Buckman’s oversized installation of a neon uterus with boxing gloves for ovaries. The piece looms large on the corner of Sunset and Sweetzer, right in front of the Standard, Hollywood hotel. Champ went up last winter and will finish its one-year run this month, which means I made it just in time. Though I’d wanted to see the sculpture for months, I hadn’t made the effort until that day. And maybe that’s the real benefit of the v-steam – it enables you to carve out some quality time with your most intimate parts. I had finally seen the vaginal light.
Amelia is a travel writer who has contributed to Travel + Leisure, Harper’s Bazaar, Los Angeles Magazine, Fathom, and National Geographic Traveler. You also might recognize her from here and here… we obviously think the world of her.