Before meeting Cindy Barshop and visiting her sexual health spa, VSPOT, I assumed that a V-Steam—a treatment which involved blowing herbs and soft steam up my vagina as I lay supine on a spa table on the Upper East Side—was, well, privileged, superfluous bullshit. Not to mention that it was undoubtedly hazardous for my lady parts.
The fact that I’d been reading so much about the treatment felt like a symptom of good marketing, part of the way the mammoth beauty industrial complex wages a campaign for women’s money, a campaign that has now extended to the niche, but growing, vaginal care market. But what I found was quite the opposite. Instead, the V-Steam felt more like a sauna for my vagina, making the experience feel rejuvenating, fun, and, yes, sexy.
Barshop, an entrepreneur and feminist, is sincerely dedicated to providing women a space of their own, unrelated to their partner. I was nervous going in. But Tina Shala, a technician at VSPOT, acknowledged my concerns—I wasn’t fully groomed, I was feeling vulnerable—while providing me with sharp insight and science to alleviate my anxieties.
“Every vagina is unique and beautiful,” she said, before addressing my biggest hangup about the whole thing, which is that the vagina should be able to take care of itself.
“The vagina is self-cleaning, why do I need this?” I asked. Shala agreed but reminded me that we already introduce artificial cleansers and other things into our vagina, via things like scented tampons and soaps, so a steam can be helpful. Another point she made is that this is a process meant to de-stress in a holistic way, and so by enjoying the steam as a method of self-care, I’d leave feeling as relaxed as I do post-acupuncture or -massage.
The steam itself took about 30 minutes. After undressing in private, I lay down on a table (this is unlike another method of vaginal steaming, which requires one to perch over a stool), and Shala began to fill the steamer with a collection of herbs that is a signature VSPOT formula. Basil, calendula, mugwort, marshmallow root, rose petals, and wormwood are placed into the steamer, containing purified water, which then blows—from a distance of about a yard—into your vaginal canal. It waters it, so to speak.
While the steamer did its steam thing, Shala handed me a VMAGIC stick, made of propolis, honey, olive oil, and avocado oil, which I had rubbed onto my vulva prior to the treatment. It is purported to balance and serve as an anti-inflammatory aid. Honestly, it also just felt damn good. Physically, yes, but also mentally, because I was tending to a part of myself that has long been stigmatized, as being too smelly, too wet, too embarrassing, too... gross. This was a reminder that the vagina is just the opposite.
Besides relaxation, the steaming supposedly dilates blood vessels to increase blood circulation by providing oxygen to the vagina, which relaxes pelvic floor muscles. This process is also supposed to help alleviate period cramping and other pain. Shala rubbed my abdomen with lemongrass oil as the steam blew into me. After the steaming process was over, Shala put a blue LED light over the area, which is supposed to promote anti-bacterial function.
Dr. Carolyn Delucia, an ob-gyn and resident doctor at VSPOT, says, “The blue LED has been studied to have antibacterial effects on pseudomonas aeruginosa and staphylococcus aurius which are commonly found on the vulva and may cause odor.”
Vaginal steaming is not without its critics, and they cite valid points. For example, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of medicine, points out that there are three potentially dangerous effects of the V-Steam: It doesn’t balance hormones, it messes with your good bacteria, and the treatment can cause burning, allergic reactions, and general discomfort. For these reasons, it is really important to consult with a doctor before trying a vaginal steam.
My experience at VSPOT was totally positive though. My prior association of vaginal steaming with pretentiousness disappeared; for me, it felt like an act of spirituality and self-love that comes with taking risks and championing self-care. It comes at a real cost—a VSPOT steam is $15—but the sense of peace I left with felt worth it to me.