Is it just us, or have we been hearing an awful lot about our “yonis” lately? From yoni eggs to yoni massage to yoni yoga, it seems to have become the vagina synonym of choice for anyone in the alternative health and wellness world. Over the last five years, internet searches for the term yoni have risen steadily, according to research from Google.
But where does yoni come from? It’s certainly not a new word; in fact, it dates back to ancient Indian times. It’s Sanskrit—like many terms used in yoga—and means “womb,” “uterus,” or “place of birth or origin.” The Oxford Dictionary of Hinduism also describes yoni as “a stylized representation of female genitalia, representing the Goddess and/or female power.”
Because of its Sanskrit roots—and its girl-power vibes—the term has made its way into American yoga classes and holistic health and spirituality circles. But it’s also been adopted by companies marketing products with dubious health claims.
Take Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand Goop, for example, which recently advised readers to try “jade eggs for your yoni.” Other websites market yoni teas, yoni oils, yoni crystals, yoni steaming stools, and yoni meditation kits. The supposed benefits of these items vary, from strengthening vaginal muscles to boosting fertility and sex drive to cleansing the uterus and balancing hormones levels.
So is this yoni trend a good thing or a bad thing for women’s health? It may be a little bit of both, says Nicole Williams, MD, founder of The Gynecology Institute of Chicago. On the plus side, says Dr. Williams, talking about—and caring for—our vaginas is no longer a taboo subject.
“It used to be that you could only get information about sex and female health in secret conversations among friends or in certain women’s magazines,” she tells Health. “Now it’s a lot more open, and women can find information almost anywhere.”
RELATED: 8 Ways Sex Affects Your Brain
But it’s a bad thing when that information is misleading, unproven, or potentially unsafe, Dr. Williams adds. “The websites that tout products or treatments that will ‘make your yoni so much better’ are often not supported by science or recommended by medical professionals,” she says.
And while women today may be more comfortable than ever discussing their vaginal health, some experts say we’re still not comfortable enough—and that using slang terms like yoni only makes the problem worse.
“I am not about perpetuating this very bad habit of not calling a vagina a vagina,” Sheri Ross, MD, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period., tells Health. “I think it’s detrimental to women everywhere to continue using code names to speak about their vaginas.”
Dr. Ross cites a 2014 British survey in which 65% of women said they were uncomfortable saying the words vagina and vulva, and that 45% of women never talk about their vaginal health with anyone, not even their doctors. Ignoring technical terms for female parts may also be keeping us from fully understanding our bodies: In a more recent survey, 44% of women could not correctly point out the vagina on an anatomical diagram. (Half of the men in the survey couldn’t either, but that’s a whole other story.)
The word vagina still can’t be said in politics and mainstream media without some sort of backlash, says Dr. Ross, due to outdated attitudes and societal norms about sex and the female body. “We need to change this reality for the sake of women’s health, especially since there doesn’t seem to be a problem in mainstream advertising for the treatment of erectile dysfunction!”
That being said, not all doctors think that using woo-woo words for your vajayjay is a bad thing. In her 2010 book What’s Up Down There?, gynecologist Lissa Rankin, MD, devotes an entire chapter to “You and Yoni: The Relationship.”
She writes that growing up, she hated the word vagina and always thought of her lady parts very clinically—even after she started to have sex, which she found painful and unenjoyable. It wasn’t until her 30s—around the time she met a man “who treated me like a goddess”—that she discovered and fully embraced the term yoni, and began to see her private parts as empowering and worthy of pleasure.
But back to all those yoni products: When we asked Dr. Williams and Dr. Ross about their opinions on those, they both had similar thoughts. “It bothers me that non-medical business women and men are trying to enter the medical space and introduce products with exorbitant prices and false claims and about their effects on health and wellness, especially the vagina,” says Dr. Ross.
Instead of inserting a yoni egg into your vagina (which can damage pelvic muscles and increase infection risk), Dr. Ross recommends doing kegel exercises. And instead of getting a yoni steam treatment (which can burn sensitive tissue or upset the vagina’s pH balance), she recommends taking a warm bath with extra-virgin coconut oil.
To get our best sexual health and wellness tips delivered to you inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter
Dr. Williams agrees that consumers shouldn’t be swayed by product names that sound healthy or holistic or full of ancient wisdom. “If you decide you want to use any kind of device for your vagina, just run it by your ob-gyn first,” she says. “If it’s inert and doesn’t have any biological reactivity, it’s probably okay—but it’s better to be safe than sorry before you put it inside you.”
Plus, there’s a good chance your doctor can recommend a similar medical-grade product that will be a lot cheaper than what you’ll pay on the Internet, she adds. “And it’s going to be safer and clinically proven, too.”