We first discovered vaginal steaming—as one does—via an Instagram post from an Austin-based herbalist. The treatment, sometimes called bajos or chai-yok, entails a woman sitting over a bowl of herbs steeped in hot water. We were instantly intrigued. Potential benefits, advocates say, include help with menstrual cramps, infertility, dryness and urinary tract infections. Some say the regimen can even help bring on a period, if a woman’s cycle has been irregular.
Apparently, people have been doing this for a long time—it’s an accepted herbal treatment in Korea and parts of Central America. A cursory internet search led us to a destination that, in retrospect, seemed inevitable: Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP. Her recommendation for steaming unleashed a lot of online hate, as everything she recommends does.
Then there were the articles on sites like Women’s Health warning women: Don’t steam your vagina! Not only is there potential to burn yourself if the steam’s too hot, went these cautionary tales, but some gynecologists think the herbal steam might mess with good bacteria, which are vital to keeping women healthy and infection-free. Nearly all of the stories employed a stock photo of an iron with steam coming off of it.
But as it turns out, nobody’s yet done a study on the practice. That was enough for us. Our curiosity won the day, and we made an appointment for a $65 steam with Jeneé Pierre at Woman’s Earth Nurturing Studio, a spa, wellness center and yoga studio in the Third Ward, and one of two spots in town that provides the treatment (the other is Sanctuary Spa on South Shepherd).
Driving up to the big house on Southmore Boulevard on a Sunday afternoon, we weren’t sure what to expect. Pierre greeted us with a warm hug, which could have been weird, but it wasn’t—she has a seriously good vibe. She led us past a ground-floor yoga studio where a couples' yoga and vegan brunch session was in progress.
Upstairs in the treatment room, she had us change into a towel, then directed us to an area behind a folding screen, where there was a standard kitchen chair with a hole cut out in the middle of the seat. We sat in the chair as she wrapped us in sheets so the steam wouldn’t escape, then placed a bowl of hot water mixed with lavender, rose petals, damiana and raspberry leaf beneath us. She had us take three deep breaths and left the room for 20 minutes while the steam worked its magic.
You know what it’s like when you make yourself a cup of hot chamomile tea, hold it in both hands, and breathe in the steam? It was exactly like that, except not the same body part. It was so relaxing, we closed our eyes and nearly fell asleep. It felt like a deeply comforting hug—not, it must be said, arousing. We loved it. Afterward, Pierre advised us to drink a lot of water and try to take it easy for the day. Later that night, the area felt … tingly. Again, not in a sexual way.
We returned a few days later to chat with Pierre about the treatment. She opened Women’s Earth in 2013 and, a year later, became a birth doula, expanding her services to include pre- and postpartum care for new mothers, which led her to steaming. “Postpartum care in many cases is just thrown out the window, especially for moms that have other kids, or working moms,” she said. “I thought, how can I enhance their restorative care? And one of my doula sisters introduced me to vaginal steaming.”
Pierre tried it on herself first, then started steaming her new moms. Soon her friends and clients without children started asking for steams, so she began offering them as a spa service.
Pierre has struggled with bad menstrual cramps, she said, which doing the treatment a few times a year has helped. “But it’s a holistic approach,” she cautioned, adding that it’s worked in conjunction with eating healthy, drinking more water, and reducing stress levels. “It’s powerful,” she said. “It’s not a Band-Aid. This is medicine.”
As for us, we’re not sure if it felt like medicine, exactly. But it was a deeply relaxing experience we just might try again.