“I got invited to a vagina steaming party.”
My husband looked over from A Catcher in the Rye.
“A vagina steaming party,” I repeated all nonchalant, turning the page of my novel.
He blinked, his eyes magnified by reading glasses.
“What on earth is that?”
“I really don’t know.”
He rest his book against his belly.
“Are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
I stared at the words of my own book, undecided.
“You should go.”
He commenced reading.
“Why?” I looked over, surprised.
“Sounds . . . fun,” he giggled, lips wrapped around his teeth.
We read awhile longer then turned out the lights. And I was right there teetering on sleep when he snort laughed in his pillow.
“Can you make rice at the same time?”
“You’re an idiot.”
I secret smiled in my pillow.
“You’re lovely,” he replied.
And I fell asleep, undecided.
How does one get invited to a vagina steaming party?
Well. I learned about it on Facebook, from a small local women’s group I’m privy to. The gatherings are earthy in nature —full moon celebrations, henna parties and the like— but I’d never attended anything.
“I think you should go,” Christopher handed me tea the next morning.
“Why are you so anxious for me to steam my vagina?”
Our son entered the kitchen at this time. Looked at us long enough to die inside, then backed away slowly.
“Because it sounds like a laugh and I think you’d have a good time.”
“But I don’t know these people.”
“Since when do you have a problem making friends?”
“It just sounds really personal.”
For all the guts I spill on this blog, I’m actually quite private about a few things, my nether bits being one. And the idea of sitting in a steamy circle of exposed labia held very little appeal.
Still curious, I monitored the thread. My friend Kelly RSVP’d (yay) so then I started googling — with delicacy, of course. You can end up with a screenful of porn asking the wrong question. But what I learned is, ‘vagina rejuvenation’ is a thing right now, with a giant list of procedures.
They’re not going to insert anything, are they?
I sent Kelly an urgent text, and she called me right away.
“Girl, no,” she laughed. “And Sam knows what she’s doing. She’s a board certified midwife.”
“She delivered my babies!”
I didn’t know the midwife part.
And that changed things entirely.
“See you there,” I replied.
Kelly and I walked along the river to Sam’s house, arriving at the rustic outdoor space in her backyard, purpose built for such gatherings. As we approached this building — dubbed the SHE SHACK — I had very good feelings.
Inside, Sam bustled around readying pots while another girl sorted baggies of herbs. With introductions made and wine poured, I was instantly comfortable.
For some reason I thought this’d be a group activity, but a sheet hung in the corner concealing a birthing stool and I realized it was a one-person-at-a-time thing.
“Sam?” I sipped my small jar of white wine. She had apples, cheese, cucumbers, hummus, charcuterie and crackers out too, so this was awesome already. “Do you mind if I write about this?”
“Go for it, girl.” She bent over a giant tub of herbs, sorting. “The more educated people are, the better.”
Amen to that.
I pulled out my phone.
The 4th girl besides Kelly, Sam, and myself, was Ashley, a master herbalist. And she brought a LOT of ingredients.
They stuck their noses in bags discussing properties. Measurements. And I watched like a curious anthropologist. This wasn’t some trendy slumber party ritual suddenly popular because Gwyneth Paltrow said so. This was a serious, ancient practice. And these ladies knew their stuff.
I learned a few years ago not to poo-poo herbal medicine anyway. I’m allergic to anything stronger than ibuprofen, and one day after suffering a toothache, a library colleague pressed a small brown dropper bottle in my hand.
“Tastes like ass,” she warned. “But it should help with your pain.”
What is it? I winced, hardly caring.
“Mostly yarrow root,” she said. “And keep it. You don’t look right.”
It tasted like twelve asses let alone one, but dang if my pain didn’t go away.
“You can go first, Jenn.” Sam snapped twigs off a scraggly dried bush — mugwort, I learned, then asked questions about my period.
Ashley handed her baggies according to my answers, which I assumed uneventful. But cycle length and cramp severity seemed to compute and I loved watching their deliberate decisions regarding my care. And that’s exactly what it felt like.
A spoonful of this, a handful of that. I heard the words ‘astringent’ and ‘tonality’ and watched the pretty herbs pile in the bowl, my heart full of trust.
“It that just for Kabay?” Kelly slid blue cheese on an apple slice, crosslegged on the floor.
“Yes, this is the Kabay blend.” Sam crunched herbs in her fist.
And I felt all special.
Maybe the wine was taking affect.
But I couldn’t wait to get on that stool.
“I really don’t need the curtain,” Ashley said.
“Me neither,” I agreed. So Sam pulled it down, then poured boiling water over my herbs filling the room an earthy, wooden fragrance.
“Ready?” she slid the steaming bowl under the stool.
I pulled the back of my long skirt up and sat down, its front length hanging to floor. Sam wrapped two thick blankets around my waist, draping my lower half, then tucked them around my feet. “You good?” She checked for gaps so no steam could escape. Her bedside manner was excellent, proving my earlier privacy fears a complete waste of energy, like most fears.
“You look all Victorian, sitting on that throne,” Kelly observed, offering more wine.
“I feel all Victorian,” I smiled, accepting a refill.
Lights were lowered so only candlelight flickered.
And I waited.
For what I wasn’t sure.
Would it tingle?
Burn, as someone warned?
“Is it too warm?” Sam asked.
“Not at all.” I was a good foot above the herbs. “It could probably could be warmer.”
“Do you feel anything?”
I wiggled a bit, considering.
“You know? I think I do?”
I sat there a good 15 minutes, trying to conjure adjectives.
So I succumbed to relaxation. To swirling incense and soft, thumping music. To the beautiful, maternal, communal way women can be, their conversation low and soothing like a background ohm.
And then I felt it.
A sort of . . . I dunno. Tingle is not the right word.
Like a dimmer switch sliding off to on?
“Oop. I think I feel something.”
“Good!” Sam started prepping another bowl. “Is it too hot?” She crushed dried rose petals in her fingers.
My tiny dancer suddenly gave me jazz hands.
I sat up straight, roses blooming in my cheeks.
“I think it could be hotter.”
“Here.” Kelly dropped to her knees before me with a pillow footrest ottoman thingy. “Promise I won’t look.”
She reaching under the blankets, extracted the bowl, placed it on top of the ottoman and slid it back under.
“Better?” She retucked the blanket around my feet.
Yes, I nodded. Thank you.
Something was happening down there.
I just wasn’t sure what.
Nothing about it was sexual. Not even a tiny bit.
So if you’re reading this for a cheap thrill, resume your vagina searches elsewhere, perv.
It was more like high-level relaxation.
A lower-body awakening, of sorts.
If you have to steam clean it, you’re doing something wrong, someone wrote on Facebook.
Did it whistle? another friend asked.
— this wasn’t about hygiene.
It was me wondering why more people didn’t know about this and what giant percentage the world’s women would never ever experience it because why on earth would you do such a thing.
That’s hippie quackery!
The sparkly magic swirling under that blanket was not my imagination.
And I wondered if it was mental, the well-being I felt. Like the elevated way one feels after a good sermon, a long talk with a dear friend, or a leisurely stroll in the dappled woods.
And the answer is no. My physical reaction was real.
Consider what herbs can do to the mind. It’d be foolish and somewhat ignorant to dismiss their affect on other parts, too.
” ‘Ello, steamy!” Christopher called when I walked in the door. “How was it?”
I plopped on the couch.
Better wasn’t the right word.
More like . . . different.
Hard to articulate, but yes. I felt different.
Especially the next day.
There was a certifiable spring in my step. A clarity downstairs, like my lady bits —if likened to the mind— had a deep, restorative night’s sleep. Bright-eyed and bu—
. . .never mind.
Yeah. I felt better.
Lovely in fact.
Physically, I’d compare it to the clear, open way your skin feels after a facial.
Even days later.
I felt like one of Boticelli’s Graces.
I can’t believe you wrote about this. Have you no shame?
Oh, be quiet.
Women’s health is the nucleus of debate this days. And the (awful) word ‘pussy’ is actually mainstream news thanks to you-know-who.
I had to unpack some issues while writing this, tiptoeing around propriety wondering whom I might offend and why.
We’re conditioned to defining vaginas either sexually or clinically, but this experience was neither.
It was intellectual.
(*High five* if that conjures Supertramp.)
Anyway. That’s why I wrote this.
Because fear, misogyny, and misinformation swirl like noxious gas out there, making young girls and grown ass women strangers to their own bodies.
And this isn’t some feminist manifesto, either. I’m just saying there’s a big world out there beyond soap and water and I’m really glad I went. So are my bits.
Now back to my regularly scheduled program of books and Beatles and things that go bump in the night.
Peace, love and mugwort,