There’s a deeply irritating faux-mysticism that is so often attached to the vagina. But I can’t think of anything less enigmatic than a fanny. It has all the inscrutableness of a giant stretchy, smelly tube that periodically spits out menstrual blood, white stuff, babies and is prone to the least glamorous of all infections: thrush. But all of this riddle-of-the-Sphynx stuff aside, how well do we actually know our vaginas? And moreover, how well do they know us?
Now, I'm a brassy sort of woman. I've a ruddy complexion and the physique of Mrs Bun, The Baker’s Wife. I'm the kind of woman who will, with sturdy hand, wax a friend’s bikini line in a pub loo. All of this, I think, makes me the prime candidate to actually try out the “vagina pearl detox” that’s been doing the rounds on the internet. This, by the way is different from the highly controversial vagina steaming treatment referenced by Goop. And if I'm not, at least when my father does his customary Google of the family surname, it’ll give him something informative to read. Hi, dad!
For the uninitiated, vagina detox pearls are these sort of mini spherical teabag things made of muslin cloth and stuffed with herbs such as motherwort, angelica, borneol and rhubarb. You’re supposed to put them up your “vajayjay” in order to sort of cleanse it. It’s claimed – and customers online testify – that they fix lots of different ailments such as bagginess, heavy periods, bacterial vaginosis, hot flushes, endemetriosis as well as a proclivity for yeast infections.
When I heard that it treats “yeast infections”, I though “Jackpot! Sign me up!” Sometimes I can’t leave the house without a tube of Canesten for months on end. (Once again: hi, dad.) So I emailed the company behind the product.
“Our cleansing pearls are 100% natural and therapeutic, intended for holistic vaginal healthcare. They offer support to women’s bodies and restore feminine health,” says a spokesperson for A Path To Pregnancy. They recommend that women with troublesome vaginas do one detox a month.
However, some doctors don’t think your vagina needs a detox whatsoever. Dr Vanessa Mackay, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists tells me: "The vagina is designed to clean itself with natural secretions and should not require a 'detox'. It contains good bacteria, which are there to protect it. If these bacteria are disturbed it can lead to infection, such as bacterial vaginosis or thrush, and inflammation. Perfumed products, soaps, gels, antiseptics, and vaginal douches can all affect the pH levels and the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina, and cause irritation.
"Anyone who is worried about the way their vagina smells, or has noticed irritation or itching, should seek advice from their GP or pharmacist as they may have an infection that needs treatment."
So, you don’t think I should be using the detox pearls? “We would not recommend that you use these at all.”
Right then. So, you should probably follow their advice. But just like I wanted to watch Sex And The City 2 only after reading the terrible reviews, this piques my curiosity further.
Saburah recommends I use three pearls, leaving them up my mystic portal for three days, which will be followed by three days of heavy, slightly scary looking discharge. Then I’ll be able to eat my dinner off my twat. Which will be useful as my boyfriend almost smashed every item of crockery in the house when I said we probs wouldn’t be able to have sex for a week or so if that’s OK with you, babes?
The pearls – which cost £8 each – arrive in the post, packaged in a little hessian bag. They’re individually wrapped in silver foil condom-style packets along with two sachets of aloe vera lube, and some pantyliners for “what comes after.”
Up the pearls go, far up, right near by my trusty cervix, leaving the tampon-like threads dangling out. I get a slight tingling feeling, and imagine the ultimate upskirt breeze blowing away any “toxins” in my fanny. It’s not unpleasant, but a little strange. One hour later, something’s tingling quite hard near my cervix. (Hi, Dad! Can you remember to forward my bank statements to me, please?)
Beyond the usual dicks/fingers/tampons etc, women are cautious about putting anything up their fanny. With good reason. I’m not sure what I'm doing is potentially bad for me. Well I actually do know it’s potentially bad for me as the gynaecologist already expressly told me it was. I start to feel like I have cramps but think I might have cramps before? Does anything inspire the same paranoia as our vagina?
That night I figure my vagina’s “detoxing” so I can have a few drinks and a few cigarettes. By the time I’m leaving the pub it feels like I’ve got Berocca in my snizz.
The inside is dry, tight and almost crusty by the time I get home. I pull the three beads out by the threads, but there’s stuff on them. Like, bobbly stuff. Is it the lining of my vagina? I feel like the lining of my enchanted yoni should just stay there and not be torn out? There’s a red matter coming off the “pearls” but I feel like that could be because the herbs are a sort of red colour? Either way, the stinging stops and I feel instantly better.
I’m obsessed with looking at them after I take them out, and carry them through to the sitting room – three wet balloons perched on an empty sachet of lube. Have they done anything to me? Am I a changed woman? “Oh my God, have you left your womb lining vag balls on the coffee table? I’m going to bed,” my boyfriend says, horrified. He makes me throw them away when the cat starts smelling them.
Apparently my reaction was not the typical one. “We would not expect anyone’s vagina to tighten after one cleanse, so I wonder if you’re sensitive to the ingredients,” says the retailer. “What you’re experiencing with regards to the stinging is not a normal reaction. I would expect that normal lubrication will continue after a week and the discharge and old tissue will have also disappeared.”
They warn me not to “pick” the crusty bits. Gwyneth Paltrow is a famous advocate of vagina detoxes, using a steam-clean method that doesn’t involve any “pearls.” But I don’t think I’ve ever felt less showbiz than I did when dried, white bits of my vaginal wall fall out in the shower. NB: Not painful, certainly unsettling.
The detox may only have lasted 12 hours, and the “fall out” two days, but I do feel I know my body better. I know that my vagina won’t take any shit and that I have to just leave it alone, and respond when it calls. We don’t each have a magical inner goddess that needs worshiping and nourishing – we have a surly pet cat.