In Redondo Beach, California the Women’s True Healing Center has a unique service for survivors of sexual abuse. Owner and operator Marcia Lopez, a practitioner of Mayan abdominal therapy and womb healer, offers a guided vaginal steam session in a sacred setting to heal and release sexual trauma. Vaginal steaming--an ancient health remedy--involves sitting over herbal steam and is traditionally practiced by women everywhere in the world.
“When someone goes through sexual abuse their body can stay in a chronic low grade fight-or-flight mode,” explains Lopez. Lopez’s theory is based on “the interplay between the parasympathetic nervous system, the psoas, the vagus nerve and the abdominal viscera including the reproductive organs.” According to Lopez, “vaginal steaming can effectively relax the viscera and the nervous system which can help a woman on her recovery.” Lopez’s profession is based on her own experience healing from early childhood sexual trauma for which she explains “the spiritual application of vaginal steaming has proven be very helpful.”
Medical research offers support to Lopez’s approach. A study by the Department of Neurobiology at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine has demonstrated that the vagus nerves conduct sensory information directly from the cervix to the brain. Since vaginal steam touches the cervix it’s very likely that this stimulates the vagus nerve. This is extremely relevant considering that stimulating the vagus nerve releases high levels of oxytocin --known as the “trust hormone” or “love hormone” which directly sends neurotransmitters to the brain to make someone feel happy and get the body’s nervous system out of fight-or-flight mode. One of the known side-effects of vaginal steaming is feeling relaxed and sleeping deeply afterwards which might further offer evidence that oxytocin release occurs while steaming.
Lopez’s vaginal steam recovery approach, though unique in Los Angeles, is commonplace in another part of the world. A correspondent who works with survivors of sex trafficking asked her Haitian colleague if they should offer vaginal steam services to survivors. “They haven’t done vaginal steams yet?!” she exclaimed in shock. “In Haiti vaginal steaming is done as soon as possible after the violation occurs. It’s standard practice.”
Unfortunately, sexual abuse is much more frequent than it should be and the best of us can’t escape it. Some statistics state that as many as half a million Americans will be victims of sexual violence every year with 9 out of 10 victims being women. In my work with vaginal steam therapy, I’ve noticed that some of the long-term effects sexual abuse survivors deal with include missing periods, severe cramping, scar tissue, yeast infections, difficulty sleeping and pain during sex. On a physiological level, case studies show that vaginal steaming resolves all of these issues. In that way, the Haitian approach is a practical solution that makes perfect sense.
I remember going through the motions after I was raped at knifepoint at the age of 20. Although a gynecologist ran STD tests and confirmed I wasn’t pregnant and a counsellor offered me anti-depressants there wasn’t any help addressing the physical trauma my body had endured.
It wasn’t until eleven years later that I learned about vaginal steaming. Although, initially I was using it to address menstrual complications, it was very obvious that it helped me to heal from the traumatic events of my past. Immediately after steaming I was able to, for the first time in my adult life, have sex without pain. I felt a safeness during intimacy that I had never experienced before. For some reason the flashbacks went away after steaming. Perhaps my body had been in fight-or-flight mode all those years as Lopez explained. Steaming gave me a distinct awareness that, although I had trauma in my past, it was no longer part of me--it no longer had any relevance to my current life situation.
I hope that, as it is in Haiti, vaginal steaming will become standard protocol for survivors of sexual abuse and that we can all get to that safe space.
Vagal afferents from the uterus and cervix provide direct connections to the brainstem.
Increased plasma levels of oxytocin in response to afferent electrical stimulation of the sciatic and vagal nerves and in response to touch and pinch in anaesthetized rats.
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Keli Garza has a Masters degree in International Development graduating cum laude. When Garza founded the company Steamy Chick--the largest distributor of vaginal steam supplies in the United States--Garza began to work with her customers to research their results with vaginal steaming. Having recorded over seven hundred case studies, Garza holds the only known research database on vaginal steaming. Learning from her customer's experiences she developed unique vaginal steam treatment protocols for different conditions becoming a skillful practitioner able to treat a wide array of women's health concerns. Based on her practice Garza is now founding a new field of women's medicine called Peristeam Hydrotherapy--the use of vaginal steaming for menstrual and reproductive health. She has certified over one hundred practitioners worldwide through her Peristeam Hydrotherapy Institute and is conducting clinical studies which will help to establish vaginal steaming as an evidence-based medical science.