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Vaginal jade eggs: not only useless but potentially harmful

Among the goofiest products pushed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her website are vaginal jade eggs
REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
Among the goofiest products pushed by actress Gwyneth Paltrow and her website are vaginal jade eggs.

It’s difficult to keep track of all the ridiculous health products that are promoted — and sold — to women by Gwyneth Paltrow through her lifestyle and wellness website Goop.

There’s the $135 “Implant-O-Rama,” an at-home coffee enema for “detoxing” the body, for example, and the $55 “Devi Steamer Seat,” a vaginal steaming device that’s supposed to, among other things, help “balance” female hormones.

But, as many medical experts have pointed out, the health claims that Goop makes for both of these products are nothing but pseudoscientific nonsense — and potentially dangerous. Colon-cleansing procedures can lead to harmful and sometimes serious side effects, including cramping, diarrhea, infections and electrolyte imbalances (which can be medically perilous for people with heart disease and other illnesses). And gynecologists recommend that women not douche, whether with steam, water or any other mixture of liquids, because the practice has been linked to vaginal infections and other health problems.

But among the goofiest — or Goopiest — products pushed by Paltrow and her website are vaginal jade eggs. And, like so many of the other items Goop promotes, these eggs are not only useless, but also potentially harmful.

Furthermore, as a paper published last week in a medical journal points out, a central marketing claim used by Goop to sell the eggs — that such devices have an ancient Chinese origin — is false.

Goop’s vaginal jade eggs offer, therefore, yet another cautionary tale for health consumers about the need for skepticism regarding non-evidence-based health claims, particularly when it comes to alternative “therapies.”

‘Strictly guarded secret’

Goop began selling jade eggs — at $66 apiece — in January 2017. It recommended that women insert the egg into their vagina either while they slept or while they went about their daily activities. The site claimed the egg would help tighten the pelvic floor (like Kegel exercises), as well as “cultivate sexual energy, clear chi pathways, intensify femininity, and invigorate our life force.”

The Goop website also said the eggs were a “strictly guarded secret of Chinese royalty in antiquity,” used by Chinese queens and concubines “to stay in shape for emperors.”

The outcry from the medical community was immediate. Dr. Jennifer Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist with the Kaiser Permanent Medical Group in San Francisco and a frequent critic of Goop, quickly posted on her blog a scathing “letter” to Gwyneth Paltrow, describing how “vaginal jade eggs are a bad idea.”

“It is the biggest load of garbage I have read on your site since vaginal steaming,” Gunter wrote. “It’s even worse than claiming bras cause cancer. But hey, you aren’t one to let facts get in the way of profiting from snake oil.”

After pointing out, sarcastically, that “nothing says female empowerment more than the only reason to do this is for your man!” and noting that the claim the eggs can balance hormones “is, quite simply, biologically impossible,” Gunter homed in on the products’ potential health risks:

As for the recommendation that women sleep with a jade egg in their vaginas. I would like to point out that jade is porous which could allow bacteria to get inside and so the egg could act like a fomite. This is not good, in case you were wondering. It could be a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis or even the potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome.

Regarding the suggestion to wear the jade egg while walking around, well, I would like to point out that your pelvic floor muscles are not meant to contract continuously. In fact, it is quite difficult to isolate your pelvic floor while walking so many women could actually clench other muscles to keep the egg inside. It is possible the pained expression of clenching your butt all day could be what is leading people to stare, not some energy glow.

Overenthusiastic Kegel exercises or incorrectly done Kegel exercises are a cause of pelvic pain and pain with sex in my practice. Imagine how your biceps muscle (and then your shoulders and then your back) might feel if you walked around all day flexed holding a barbell? Right, now imagine your pelvic floor muscles doing this.

Digging into the past

But Gunter didn’t stop with that blog post. She and archeologist Sarah Parcak of the University of Alabama decided to investigate Goop’s claim that jade eggs were used in ancient China.

For their study, which was published in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, Gunter and Parcak searched the collection databases of four major Chinese art and archaeology collections: the Free Gallery in Washington, D.C., the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the Asian Museum of Art in San Francisco.

“Each collection has a diversity of jade objects from across Chinese history, which include ornaments, bracelets, ritual objects, sexual objects, disks, seals, statuettes, beads, plaques, sword fittings, rings, axes, amulets, snuff bottle, garment hooks, ceremonial weapons, blades, knives, tubes (congs), rings, seals, ancestor tablets, figures, masks, pendants, vessels, and incense burners,” Gunter and Parcak write.

There were more than 5,000 items in all. Those items included a jade butt plug and a jade cicada for the mouth (both placed in the orifices of dead kings to preserve their bodies for eternity), but none of the collections had a vaginal jade egg.

“The only jade egg identified was made by Faberge (post 1900) and not for vaginal use,” Gunter and Parcak write.

“Unless evidence to the contrary can be identified, claims that vaginal jade eggs have an ancient Chinese origin should be considered a modern marketing myth,” they conclude.

Postscript

In September, a group of California prosecutors slapped Goop — which is worth $250 million — with $145,000 in civil fines for misleading consumers with “unsubstantiated” marketing claims for several of its products, including its vaginal jade eggs.

As part of the settlement of this consumer protection action, Goop is barred “from making any claims regarding the efficacy of its products without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence, and from manufacturing or selling any misbranded, unapproved, or falsely-advertise medical devices.”

We’ll see.  And, of course, there are many other “Goops” out there.

FMI: You’ll find an abstract of the study by Gunter and Parcak at the website for Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery.

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