Here in Los Angeles, there’s quite a bit of lore that surrounds Korean day spas. Stories abound of nude women stepping in and out of hot and cold baths, of harsh rubdowns that leave your skin squeaky clean, of unspoken spa rituals that the average non-Korean is bound to break on their first, second and probably fifth trip to the spa.
All of this was running through my mind as I circled the block in the middle of the city trying to locate the salon at which I had scheduled my vagina steam bath, or chai-yok, which was tucked in the corner of a strip mall.
To give you a little background: I first heard of the vagina steam bath a few years ago. Like anyone with a vagina, I was immediately curious about it. I don’t ever douche, and I’m not particularly worried about fertility or odor at the moment – both things that the spa’s website says the vagina bath will help with – but I was intrigued as to how I would feel with a freshly steamed vag.
Very few places offer it; in fact, the spa that I went to may be one of only two in the L.A. area. The process, I soon learned, consists of squatting on a low stool with a hole in the middle form which herbal steam rises out of a pot and into your vagina. One is expected to sit atop the pot for about 45 minutes.
The spa itself was tiny. Women in pink and red spa-issued robes lounged on the floor of an open changing area watching what looked like a Korean reality show. I can’t pretend that it wasn’t obvious to everyone that I’d never been to a day spa like this one before – the kind woman at the front desk practically held my hand as she walked me through the routine: there was the steam room, to the left the sauna, and just behind the changing area, the hot and cold baths and the showers. My vagina steam bath, she said, would be ready in 15 minutes.
My steam was finally ready after I had tried to exist inconspicuously in the wood-panels spa for about 30 minutes while it warmed up. I hopped in the hot bath and tried to hop in the cold bath, having heard once that it was good for circulation, but failed miserably upon realizing that the cold bath was seriously fucking cold.
The woman from the front desk helped me out of my robe and into the type of cover-up they put you in at the hair salon, a giant piece of fabric that covers you from the neck down and has no discernable arm holes. She demonstrated how I was to sit – I would begin with my butt scooted back and my knees pulled up so that my feet rested on the front of the stool, and after about 15 minutes, I would put my feet down on the floor so as to allow for more steam to penetrate my vagina. Throughout this experience, I was to periodically stick my face into the robe so that I could take several deep breaths of the pungent steam rising from below the stool.
And so I began. I’ll admit that the first thing I felt was claustrophobia – sticking my head beneath the robe to inhale, which the front desk lady admonished me to do as she sat close by making sure that I wasn’t hurting myself or otherwise fucking up the steam, was weirdly terrifying. I couldn’t breathe well in there, although the steam did smell and feel delightful, and the robe was red, lending the whole experience a sort of sinister glow.
My next concern was that perhaps I hadn’t done enough research into this treatment. I had no idea whether there were precautions I should have taken, whether anything could go wrong, whether I could get a yeast infection or a UTI, both of which I’m prone to acquiring.
The steam felt neither good nor bad; rather, it felt exactly like what you’d imagine steam on your vagina would feel like. Warm, every so often hot, and cleansing. The front desk woman periodically reminded me that what was happening was that I was getting rid of toxins, flushing out my pubic area and cleansing my whole body. She told me that the best time to undergo a vagina steam bath is right after your period, to get everything out.
But what really struck me wasn’t so much the steam or the potential benefits to my ladyparts; what struck me was how much difficulty I had sitting still and not doing anything for 45 minutes. My mind raced; I’m stressed out at the moment about finding a place to live, about my recent break-up, about work. For 45 minutes, as my vagina cleansed, I had no iPhone, no computer, no magazine, nothing to do with my mind except try not to let it run wild.
I can’t say that I was totally successful, but I can say that I appreciated the opportunity to give it a shot. I left feeling as though I had briefly reigned in my neurotic mind, and meanwhile at least given my vagina something new to think about.