Yoni steaming — also known as vaginal steaming, V-steaming, and herb steaming — is an ancient healing practice that involves straddling a pot of hot herb water (basically, tea) for up to an hour.
(FYI: Yoni is the Sanskrit word for vagina. It translates to “a sacred space.”)
Far from being science-backed, vaginal steaming comes with a number of negative side effects, like abnormal discharge, burning, itching, swelling, and even infection.
Below, learn what to do if you’ve tried the trend and are now experiencing uncomfortable symptoms. Plus, find everything you need to know if you’re intrigued by the idea of a steam-cleaned cooch.
It depends on whether you’re experiencing normal discharge or abnormal discharge.
Generally speaking, “some discharge is normal and is a sign of a healthy vagina,” says Felice Gersh, MD, the author of “PCOS SOS: A Gynecologist’s Lifeline To Naturally Restore Your Rhythms, Hormones, and Happiness.”
Vaginal discharge, she explains, carries dead cells and unwanted bacteria out of the vagina, helping keep it clean and fight infections.
Typically, healthy discharge is clear or milky in color and features a slight, but not strong, odor.
People’s discharge varies based on things like stress levels, where they are in their menstrual cycle, and hydration levels. But most people with vaginas have a sense of what qualifies as normal discharge for them.
(If you don’t know what your discharge normally looks like, consider this a call to action to begin paying attention to the gook in the gooch of your panties).
Abnormal discharge is any discharge that varies from your personal norm.
Usually, abnormal discharge is:
- yellow, green, or gray in color
- similar in appearance to cottage cheese, frothy, or foamy
- strong-smelling or has a foul in odor
If you’re experiencing abnormal discharge alongside pain, itching, or burning, Gersh recommends seeking out medical care. That cocktail of symptoms suggests an infection.
If, however, you’re *only* experiencing abnormal discharge, she recommends seeking medical care if the symptoms last longer than 3 days.
Again, some discharge is normal and healthy. So whether you should find relief will vary on what kind of discharge you’re experiencing.
If you’re experiencing discharge similar to the discharge you usually experience, it’s a sign that your vagina is doing as it should.
If, however, you’re having symptoms similar to the ones listed above, something is not right down there.
Do not, under any circumstances, try to “scoop” the discharge out of your vagina or insert a tampon or other device to “absorb” the discharge.
Instead, “contact your healthcare professional to see if you should come in for a vaginal culture to make sure it’s not the abnormal discharge associated with a yeast, bacterial, or sexual transmitted infection,” Ross says.
To find relief ahead of meeting with your healthcare professional, she says you can try applying a cold compress to your vulva or taking a warm water bath with extra-virgin coconut oil to help calm external swelling, burning, irritation, and itching.
Unfortunately, there are many.
For starters, forcing your delicate genital skin to come into contact with a swoosh of hot air can traumatize the vulvar skin. This can leave behind burn marks.
It’s also possible that the specific herbs you use create an unfavorable reaction, like itching or irritation on the vulvar skin. In severe cases, an allergic reaction to the herbs is possible.
Whether the scented steam is *actually* able to make its way into the vaginal canal is up for debate. But, if it does, Ross says, “my concern would be that the steam would have similar consequences that vaginal douching does.”
The vagina is a self-cleaning machine that contains good bacteria to help fight off infection and bad bacteria, Ross explains.
As soon as something (i.e. steam, herbs, soap, etc.) disrupts this machine, the risk of infection goes wayyy up.
“Pain, itching, and irritation are never a sign that something worked,” Gersh says. “Those are all your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.”
Discharge is also not a sign that yoni steaming worked.
If the discharge is normal, it’s a sign that, despite the fact that you just sent a swoosh of herby air into it, your vagina is functioning as it should.
If the discharge is abnormal, it’s a sign of an infection.
There’s a H-U-G-E difference between the purported benefits and the proven benefits.
The two main purported benefits are that the “treatment” cleanses and detoxes the vagina.
Other fans of the treatment say it can also:
- promote pelvic floor muscle relaxation
- rejuvenate the genital skin
- increase blood flow to the area
- promote natural lubrication
- cleanse the uterus
- release toxins from the reproductive system
- increase libido
The problem is that none of these purported benefits are science-backed.
“There are no medical studies proving any of the purported benefits of this ancient wellness practice,” Ross says. As such, she and other gynecologists are on Team Anti V-Steam.
The good news is that, should you try steam cleaning and get an infection as a result, most vaginal infections can be cured with a round of antibiotics.
The bad news is that, if you try it and burn yourself, burns to the vulva and vagina are notoriously hard to treat.
With no proven benefits and nothing but uncomfortable symptoms to gain, there’s no reason to try vagina steaming once, let alone a second or third time.
“The vagina doesn’t ever need to be cleansed or detoxed,” Gersh notes. So, you should avoid any “treatment” that promises to do just that.
If you’re interested in yoni steaming because of its purported benefits to help conditions, like polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, and fibroids, Gersh recommends sticking to the treatments and pain-relief remedies your healthcare professional recommends.
Now, if you’re interested in V-steaming because it sounds relaxing (fair!), consider trying a full-body steam room instead.
Or, you know, stick to yoga.
When it comes to vaginal steaming, just say no.
As Gersh puts it, “If you’re in the mood to steam something, make it your shirts. Vaginal steaming, as far as I’m concerned, is genital abuse.”
Gabrielle Kassel (she/her) is a queer sex educator and wellness journalist who is committed to helping people feel the best they can in their bodies. In addition to Healthline, her work has appeared in publications such as Shape, Cosmopolitan, Well+Good, Health, Self, Women’s Health, Greatist, and more! In her free time, Gabrielle can be found coaching CrossFit, reviewing pleasure products, hiking with her border collie, or recording episodes of the podcast she co-hosts called Bad In Bed. Follow her on Instagram @Gabriellekassel.