The Korean remedy chai-yok is believed by some to reduce stress, relieve menstrual cramps, and bolster fertility. Additionally, this steam treatment is said to fight infections, regulate the menstrual cycle, and help reduce hemorrhoids. Although these claims have yet to be studied and established by the medical and scientific community, there is anecdotal evidence of chai-yok’s effectiveness. Some medical professionals have expressed concerns about burning or injuring the vaginal area. In the United States, the treatment is available at high-end spas as well as alternative health centers, primarily on the east and west coasts.
Chai-yok is a vaginal steam treatment, also known as V-steam, during which a nude woman sits on an open-seated chair above a boiling pot of an herbal blend for between 20 and 45 minutes. The origins of this vaginal steam treatment are not clear, but it has been common in Korea for centuries. Many Korean women undergo a session after menstruating. There is a comparable treatment for men, sometimes called an A-steam, that steams the perineal region.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that chai-yok can be effective against infertility and can regulate menstrual cycles while reducing cramping. Some women claim that they became pregnant after several treatments. An increase in energy and a decrease in pain have also been associated with the steam. The herbs used in the steam are thought to help fight infections, reduce stress, and even clear hemorrhoids.
Although the herbal mixture used can vary, most contain wormwood and mugwort. Herbalists claim that mugwort is a natural antibiotic and antifungal agent that helps maintain uterine health. It has long been associated with vaginal health. Wormwood has traditionally been used for digestive problems as well as infections and parasites.
Some medical professionals suggest that any benefit from chai-yok is due primarily to a placebo effect, while others strongly support the treatment. Some suggest that fertility can improve with decreased stress and mind-body intervention but that a vaginal steam would have no physiological effect and could even burn or injure sensitive tissues. Conversely, others argue that chai-yok works because infertility problems are due to stagnation and coldness or poor circulation.
It can be difficult to assess the effectiveness of a remedy like chai-yok once it has been removed from its original cultural context. Although steaming the pelvic area may provide some benefit due to increased circulation, crucial puzzle pieces may be missing. By removing chai-yok from the cultural system that produced it, a system that included particular social, dietary, and environmental factors, it becomes impossible to determine whether it was the steam specifically that was responsible for any benefits.