You wanna steam your what??

The latest thing skittering across my feeds is the idea of vaginal steaming. In this, a woman sits over a hot herbal infusion, letting the steam rise up and, supposedly, enter the vagina, traveling up to the uterus, and carrying the beneficial, relaxing, cleansing properties of those herbs into your ladybits.

On the surface, this sounds like a Good Idea- we use steam for all sorts of cleansing & soothing purposes all over our bodies. So steaming your vagina must be ok, right?

Thing is, the labia and vagina are really good at Keeping Things Out.

We talk about it all the time in relationship to birth- sitting in a bath after your water breaks is ok, because the water isn’t going to travel up your vagina, putting things in your vagina can introduce bacteria, which is why you should limit exams in labor, but just having the area uncovered doesn’t suddenly make things ‘unsterile’, cautions against douching because it mucks with your natural vaginal biome, and how it is difficult for things to accidentally go up the vagina, when the design is made for things to come out.

So how would the steam get up in there, anyhow? Even with the legs spread, the labia will act as a barrier (so, arguably, you’d have to sit there holding the labia open… kinda uncomfortable after a while?), and the vagina itself isn’t just an open-wide tube, even for women who have given birth previously. There’s folds and folds of tissue that only become open when something is actively moving that tissue aside. (Gently poke around sometime… you can feel the tissues moving out of the way. This is why doctors use speculums. So, I suppose you could use one of those to hold things open, but it that really going to be soothing and relaxing?)

So, sitting over a pot of herbal steam, you would get the labia, perenium and anus nice and warm, you might get the first bit of vagina steamy, but it would be really really hard for normally rising steam to make its way past the labia and deep into the vagina, let alone all the way up into your uterus.

It just doesn’t make any sense. Sitz baths, those are different because they are being applied to external, easily accessed tissues. But unless you’re doing something like forcing the steam up the vagina (bad idea!) the mechanics of it just don’t fly. It will increase blood flow to the genital area, which is not bad for relaxation in general, but if you’re not watching the temp of the steam you could end up with burns, which would oh so defeat the purpose.

The only thing designed to travel up the vagina to the uterus are sperm, and even after billions of years of perfecting their travel plans, most of them still die before getting anywhere- I don’t think steam is going to do any better.

If you really want your vagina to be relaxed, take a nice warm bath (you can even toss some of those herbs in there), and then have an orgasm or two. The muscle spasms, plus the release of fluid will help clean the vaginal tissue, and the oxytocin and endorphins will make you feel nice and floaty.

Birth, pain, guys and fear.

There’s a video circulating (somewhat like a UK one from a couple years ago), in which men are hooked up to electrical stimulation, and put through some labor ‘contractions’. And make no mistake, it is pretty darn funny, because they are not expecting what they experience, at all, and they don’t take it well.

But is it anything like labor? Well, other than having muscles cramping tightly at intervals, not really. They haven’t had any preperation or expectations, they don’t have the mental shift that comes during labor, it is all the wrong muscle groups tightening up, and they can call a halt at any time. So while they’re experiencing intense muscle contractions in a way they never have before, it isn’t labor pain.

The most important thing missing is all the physiological chemistry that happens when a woman goes into labor. The laboring woman’s body responds to the increase in oxytocin in labor by producing endorphins- which are the body’s natural pain mitigators. Endorphins give us a nice fuzzy headed buzz that helps distance us from pain. Ever had a tattoo and felt lightheaded after? Endorphins. The afterglow of orgasm? Endorphins (And oxytocin! but more about that wonder hormone in a different post).

A laboring woman who is well supported, and has a range of coping skills to instinctively draw upon, will be less likely to react to the pain of labor with fear or stress, and that will reduce the chance of triggering the Fight or Flight Response. In FoF, our bodies actively suppress endorphins, because you don’t want to be loopy if you have to either run away or kick something’s butt. It also increases blood flow to the limbs… again good for running or asskicking, not so good when you have major physical work happening in the torso. FoF makes our bodies ready to respond to crisis.

Unfortunately the side effect of this in labor (even if you aren’t actively feeling ‘afraid’ or ‘scared’… your body doesn’t know the difference between ‘omg I’m in labor!’ tension and ‘omg something is about to eat me!’) is tension in the limbs, increased heartrate, all the signs of being really scared, which makes the pain of labor more painful, and even threatening- which increases fear, fear causes loss of endorphins which causes more pain, and so forth.

Fellow Birthing From Within Mentor Diana Kirke wrote this wonderful article: Of Course You Fear Birth. You should go read it, I’ll wait…

…Western culture has shifted birth from ‘just this thing that women do’, to this thing that woman fear. We’ve eliminated so many of the reasons our ancestresses had to legitimately fear birth (thank you modern medicine), and replaced it with images of birth as this freakypainful thing where anything could go wrong at a moments notice and you’ll become a crazy woman during birth and omgomgomgomg. But the reverse picture is of these hippy-granola women chanting OHM in candlelight, and never making a sound. The reality is steadfastly in between.

Every birth is a journey, a rite of passage, and something to be approached with honor, and awareness. Even the cesarean births, even the epidural supported births, even the water births or home births on your hands and knees. They are all BIRTH. And every woman, no matter where and how she births, is going to experience complex, intense emotions and physical sensations. Once we get over the natural vs other birth mindset, and start teaching women awareness instead of avoidance, birth culture will get much less fear based.