Hot crystals or stones pressed into the back, and orange blossom body wraps were once seen as innovative spa treatments. But these days, spa offerings have expanded beyond the privilege of spending hundreds of dollars to have someone scour off dead foot skin using ginger peel and nutmeg.
In Korea, chai-yok, or vaginal steam baths, are taken by many women at the end of their periods because of the belief that they reduce stress, fight bladder and kidney infections, clear hemorrhoids and regulate menstrual cycles. And the baths are picking up steam in the United States because of another supposed benefit: aiding infertility.
A blend of mugwort tea (used in Eastern medicine to balance female hormones), wormword (an antimicrobial cooling herb, also popular in Eastern medicine) and other assorted herbs are boiled in a pot while naked women crouch over open-seated stools. Neither herb has been widely used in or researched by Western medicine. But that’s not stopping a handful of spas in the United States from adding chai-yok to their treatment menus.
Doctors in the United States, however, caution that next to nothing is known about the scientific value of such steam baths, although anecdotal evidence supports the theory that “carefully targeted steam may provide some physiological benefits for women.”
“It sounds like voodoo medicine that sometimes works,” Dr. Vicken Sahakian, medical director of Pacific Fertility Center in Los Angeles, told the Chicago Tribune.
Regardless, some who swear by the treatments say they’re gentler than douching, and think of them as “facials” for private areas. And an instructor at the Samra University of Oriental Medicine in Los Angeles says they’re an effective treatment for “coldness or poor circulation in the lower body . . . [and] many infertility problems are related to coldness and stagnation.” Men can also undergo the same treatment, although in their case it targets their perineal area.
But other medical professionals say “it’s impossible” to say for sure whether vaginal steam baths have any real results because there’s been no real research on them, and that a larger evaluation is necessary to prove their effectiveness.
Do you think it’s fair for spas to lure or target women with these treatments whose effectiveness has not been scientifically proven in the West? Or are vaginal steam baths worth a shot if you’re struggling to conceive, especially since they’re just $30-$75 a shot (compared to the tens of thousands that other infertility treatments cost)?