We liked that this story points out early on that there is zero evidence to support the health benefits of herbal steam baths for the vagina, which are known in traditional Korean medicine as chai-yok. But we became confused when the story explained that the treatment is almost totally unheard of in the U.S., even among gynecologists and fertility experts. If there’s no evidence that chai-yok works and almost nobody knows about it or has tried it, what exactly makes this treatment worthy of an 850-word article in a leading national newspaper?
There are limited journalistic resources to cover the seemingly limitless number of treatments that are out there. So we’d prefer to see journalists pursuing stories that aid the decision-making of a significant number of health care consumers. A story about herbal steam baths for the vagina seems unlikely to meet this objective.
The story notes the price “per squat” at various spas and the cost of a do-it-yourself Internet kit.
We think the story’s discussion of possible benefits is far too extensive considering the total lack of evidence to support them. We understand the need to identify some of the claims made by boosters of the therapy, but the story devotes some three paragraphs to seemingly every possible ailment the baths (or the herbs used in them) are purported to treat. It also throws in an anecdote from a woman suggesting the baths helped her to conceive at the age of 45. The caveats about chai-yok stand a good chance of getting lost in this avalanche of discussion about benefits.
Aside from burns — the potential for which would seem to be obvious — we’re not sure if there are any harms associated with herbal steam baths for the vagina. The procedure seems less invasive than a douche, which is associated with potential health risks. We’ll call this not applicable.
The story states that there are no studies that document the effectiveness of chai-yok for any of the conditions it is claimed to treat. It notes that while there is some biological rationale for why heat in the perineal area might be beneficial, it is impossible to say whether these steam baths do any good.
The concept behind chai-yok seems vaguely reminiscent of douching, a treatment that has long been promoted as necessary for vaginal health despite a lack of supporting evidence and indications of possible harm. But while the idea may tap into some of the same psychology that makes the normal vagina seem not quite clean or healthy enough, we don’t see any evidence of overt disease-mongering in this particular story.
The story quotes two doctors with expertise in gynecology and fertility. It also solicits comments from a practitioner of traditional oriental medicine.
We don’t think the story had to mention alternative treatments for all the myriad problems that chai yok can supposedly help with. But since the story suggests in several places that chai yok increases fertility, we think a brief mention of other approaches that are supported by medical evidence would have been appropriate in this case. The story didn’t provide this information.
The story identifies several spas in Los Angeles and New York where vaginal steam baths are offered. It notes that the treatments “are not easy to find” across the country.
The story acknowledges the roots of chai-yok in Korean medicine.The approach is described as extremely avant garde in the U.S. — a characterization which is probably accurate.
Given the variety of sources quoted, we can be sure the story wasn’t based on a press release.