Is your vagina feeling sluggish? Maybe it needs a day at the spa. A trend in vaginal hygiene is readily available in Indonesia. Meet “vaginal fogging”.
Vaginal treatments called Ratus, are said to reduce stress, fight infections, regulate menstrual cycles and aid infertility, among many other health benefits. In Indonesia, many women ‘fog’ regularly after their monthly periods.
“It’s a simple, relaxing treatment,” says Reni, who hopes it will help her become pregnant. “You can imagine people doing this in the forest somewhere.”
For the wealthier, more sophisticated Indonesian lady there exists “the Vagina Spa”. A trip to the V Spa includes bathing in a mixture of herbs, an intimate massage, and a vagina smoking. A vagina smoking is done by sitting on a chair with a large hole in it while a clay pot filled with hot coals that have been sprinkled with herbs burning underneath. The website of the fanciest V Spa in Jakarta states that the herbs are meant to “reduce moisture, return vitality, and give a sensation of virginity”. Great! I promptly made a visit to a V Spa in the name of research and cultural awareness to experience this treatment first-hand.
Vaginal fogging is known as ‘the Venus Smoke’ in the US. Fogging originates from an ancient Javanese custom whereby women go to a ‘secret place’ to beautify themselves prior to wedding or special occasion. Across Indonesia women called “Jamus” make traditional medicine for a variety of ailments. They offer these treatments in upmarket Bali spas, which are included in Balinese beauty packages, especially those with Javanese origin like Martha Tilaar spas.
At Harmony Spa on Sunset Road a VG treatment called “Ratus” is available for Rupiah 140.000. The room is bathed in soft light. Your batik robe flows around you as you settle into the treatment. A delicious smell of herbs envelops you as the glowing coals in the chamber below gently smoke ‘your most intimate organ’.
Vagina spas make some rather fanciful claims about their services. Spa pamphlets often claim to ‘return vitality to the vagina, aid in regular menstruation and even give a sensation of virginity’; which is amusing to say the least! The whiff of the spas ‘smokey-herb scent’ is certainly a pleasant one.
Ibu Made, a therapist at the Harmony Spa, told me that their clientele includes high school students and married women from every nationality and age group.
“Many come here because they have a common vaginal health problem, such as a yeast infection”, Made said. “If there is no itchiness or smell, we recommend that treatment be done once every two months for the woman’s continued health”.
Yes, it is time to focus your attention on Miss V, as Indonesians like to call it. However, Penguapan (steaming) isn’t all V-spas offer. They often provide a wide range of services including massages, body wraps and facials. All the rooms are private: mine was small and simple. A masseuse handed me disposable underwear and then told me to undress and lie on the table. She covered me with a towel, and rubbed and pressed ‘pressure points’. It was relaxing and gentle.
Massaging the area (Totok) is then performed for five minutes. Made said that this is “to relax the muscles and help the blood flow better.”
The vagina is then subjected to ratus or fogging, which is said to have a number of benefits, such as reducing itchiness caused by a yeast infection and improve feminine odour.
FOR WOMEN ONLY
Afterwards I could smell smoke and heard the crackle of a fire. The masseuse (Ibu Made) handed me a towel, followed by a pair of slippers and a drape made out of batik. The drape has an elasticized hole for your head. The cloth billowed as I walked over to a wooden seat with a hole in the middle, positioned over a small chamber glowing with coals. I have to admit, it all felt a little ‘medieval’.
As I settled down on the (hard) seat, the smoke gathered inside the drape, escaping in wispy tendrils under my nose. The heat was pleasant at first. After twenty minutes of chatting in Indonesian (you may want to take a book) the masseuse declared my Penguapan complete. As I put my clothes back on, I noticed my body felt warm and soothed from the steaming experience.
Some people may find the concept of a vagina spa strange. But just like going to a regular spa where one can get massages and skin treatments for relaxation, going to a vagina spa is meant to freshen and improve the health of a woman’s most intimate organ. VG packages can also be preceded by a full-body massage.
As I sat experiencing the fogging procedure, I wondered why I was being asked to sit on a chair with a big hole inside. Well any curious customer can check out underneath the chair, where there is a clay pot with heated charcoals sprinkled with the special ratus powder made of various herbs. The long robe deliberately covers the whole chair, so that the fragrant smoke can go straight to the vagina.
Kayu rapat is said to tighten the vagina and of course the herb is aptly named. The word ‘kayu’ means wood and ‘rapat’ means tight in Bahasa Indonesian. This secret mixture is dissolved in hot water, which emits a beautifully fragrant aroma. When the water gets warm, the client is seated on a wooden bucket filled with the mixture to submerge the vagina for about five minutes. By doing this, the client is “cleaning” her intimate area with traditional, natural, herbs.
The very last stage of the spa treatment is Linggihan. A mixture of mint leaves and other mysterious plants imported from Jakarta, which are flatly wrapped in a thin piece of paper slightly thicker than a tissue. This is then placed inside the labia to freshen up the vaginal area due to the herbal mixture. You are advised to wear it for three hours before disposing of the wrap. After all these steps are completed, the client should feel ‘relief down under’ and may want to go further.
RELIEF DOWN UNDER
One of the few places offering the full treatment is VG Spa, part of Klinik Pasutri, and a health clinic founded by celebrated sexologist Dr. Boyke Dian Nugraha. This V- Spa in Jakarta makes a claim to ‘guarantee improved health for women’.
The vagina spa session begins with a procedure that incorporates a small device called the electro-stimulation machine. Flat strips connected to three cords are attached to the patient’s lower back and the soles of the feet. For about 15 minutes, these body parts are stimulated with vibrations from the machine, which causes a sensation and strengthens the muscles in the vaginal area.
The next step is called ‘Cawikan’, or bathing, using a mixtu
re of herbs such as betel leaf, locally known as daun sirih, kayu rapat (Parmeria barbata) and other fragrant plants. In Indonesia, daun sirih is popular, as it is believed to have many health benefits for women, one of which is removing unwanted vaginal odour.
How necessary is a smoking herbal treatment for your vagina? Detractors argue that we ought to leave well enough alone; the vagina is on the whole a perfectly pH-balanced, self-cleansing biological zone, so why mess with Mother Nature?
There are a surprising number of triggers that can upset the vaginal ecosystem and make the pH rise higher than 4.5. Blood has a pH of 7.4 and during your period, vaginal pH becomes elevated. Tampons can contribute to the problem since they retain the fluids that cause pH to increase. The pH of semen is 7.1 to 8 and any water or other fluids can affect vaginal pH. In Bali water in our daily showers and in the ocean can often be dirty. Rinsing with mineral water after showering is advisable together with cotton underwear. Fragrances and perfumes can also irritate the vagina so are best avoided along with tight jeans.
GOOD AND BAD BACTERIA
The vagina contains a lot of ‘good bacteria’ and some ‘bad bacteria’. The good types help control overgrowth by the bad types automatically. In women with bacterial vaginosis, the balance is upset. There are not enough good bacteria and too many bad bacteria. Bacterial Vaginosis is usually a mild problem that may go away on its own in a few days. But BV can lead to secondary complications.
Women with Bacterial Vaginosis are at risk of developing more serious medical conditions including preterm delivery and post-hysterectomy infection. They also have an increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and subsequent infertility. Although it is always advisable to seek a doctors advice, for some women dealing with bacterial and yeast infections can be expensive. One episode of BV can cost thousands of rupiah. And the problem comes back 30% of the time. This may be why Indonesian women opt for vagina spas such as Harmony.
HOW IS MY VAGINA?
Janet Jakobsen, a professor of women’s studies at New York’s Barnard College, calls the V-Spa trend a Sex and the City paradox. Women are simultaneously, totally objectified and more empowered than they used to be. Objectified because women are prostrating our bodies on some pedestal of misogyny, creating a false kind of perfect woman whose beauty and polish can be only attained after hours and weeks of personal grooming and high-end hygiene. Empowered because it’s all marketed to us as some sort of self-improvement.
But what can I say? It’s part of the Indonesian culture and some women feel they have to do it. After my rather soothing “feminine experience”, my pampered vagina and I wanted some feedback from my therapist on its overall hygiene.
“Your vagina is very clean”, Made exclaimed as she performed a mild cleanse before announcing the treatment complete. “Some women get terrible odour”.
Enjoy the experience! Yes there is an unknown woman poking around your vulva, but the procedure takes place on the outside of the body, not the inside. And conversations about the ‘state of your vagina’ are humorous to say the least!
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