My 29 year of life has so far been spent preparing for my 30s. I've tried numerous times to stop loving candy (with no success), and left the steady stream of a full-time career behind to try to make it as a freelance writer based in Bali. Most recently, my aging obsession has shifted to my vagina, thanks to the Diva Cup. In the spirit of being a health-conscious, environmentally aware adult, I decided to swear off tampons. Enter the DivaCup. Though I wasn't sure which Model I'd need — the Model 1, the site says, is recommended for women under 30 who've yet to give birth or have a c-section, and the Model 2 is for women 30 and older who have given birth and/or had a c-section — I went figured I'd start with the Model 1 and take it from there.
I stopped worrying about my vagina over the drama of moving to Bali, but, as it turned out, this was exactly where I needed to be. Indonesian women are all about keeping their vaginas (or "Miss V," as they call it) clean, tidy, and tight. This means once a month, post-period, they visit a vagina spa or v-spa for a traditional Javanese ratus treatment. A ratu treatment is when you get your vagina smoked and steamed until it’s youthful vitality, scent, and shape is restored. It may sound bizarre, but the treatment has a long history and an entire country of backers. A ratus treatment originated on the Indonesian island of Java where Javanese princesses used the treatment to prepare their vaginas for their wedding day. The tradition lives on for Indonesian brides today as a way to "freshen up" in preparation for their wedding night. Just as a Western bride may prepare her body for her wedding day by waxing off unwanted hair (or not, because it's entirely up to you), getting a mani-pedi, or finding that perfect shade of eyeshadow, an Indonesian bride uses the ratus tradition to ensure everything below the belt is in tip-top shape.
Considering I'd just learned my vagina was in the process of expansion, I found the tightening claims particularly interesting. How often are you in the midst of a pre-30 meltdown only to realize you happen to be in a country where vagina dreams really do come true?
Let me set the scene: The day was hot and muggy and I'd just gotten out of a yoga class, which meant that my body was incredibly sweaty. To top it off, I had an ear infection. Not particularly my finest state, but it’s hard to complain when you’re on your way to steam your vagina back into its 20s.
My friend had found a legit-looking v-spa online and we had plans to get the treatment together and commiserate. The night before, we had dinner with a Javanese friend and grilled her on what to expect. Her matter-of-fact reaction quickly brought down our giggly giddiness. To her, this was routine. Something you get done regularly, like a haircut or a pap smear. She'd gotten the full treatment before her marriage and a regular ratus was part of her personal maintenance.
When we arrived, we were welcomed out of the heat with cool washcloths and a rose petal aloe juice and informed that we'd have to go one at a time. I headed upstairs to meet my vagina smoker. Her name was Eka and she was 17. She directed me into a room where the treatment was to take place and there it was: the throne. By throne, I mean a wooden box with a door that was covered by a vinyl cushion. In the middle of my new chair was a prominent toilet-sized hole. Eka gestured for me to undress and wrap myself in a sheet. She covered the vinyl cushion with a towel and went to get the goods. It was go time.
I sat on the throne alone feeling very bare (obviously because I was), wondering what I'd gotten myself into. As much as I pride myself on being open to new experiences, I felt exposed and unbelievably vulnerable. What if it was too hot? What if I smelled bad? Before I could get too deep inside my nervous mind, Eka returned with a steaming ceramic pot the size of a soup bowl. She spread apart my legs, opened the door to the box, and centered the pot beneath me. It felt comfortably warm and immediately filled the room with an herby, earthy smell (which meant I had no time to stress how I smelled). While Eka gave me a neck massage, I tried to glean some information on the treatment. She said that the ratus is a powder that's sprinkled on hot coals. It contains cinnamon, sandalwood, and other spices and herbs. She gets one every month after her period to clean and reset her vagina. It’s no big deal, she assured me.
After a few minutes it started getting hot. Really, really hot. It felt like my vagina was dripping sweat, which I’m pretty sure was the case. I sat on that puppy for 45 minutes, feeling my swamp crotch grow as I tried to remember all the claims I’d read online. The ratus smoke is meant to remove unpleasant odors, reduce discharge, and improve blood circulation. It supposedly cures yeast infections and is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal. Then there’s the clincher, the claim that the spices and herbs strengthen the pelvic floor muscles to tighten the vagina. Some reviewers had lofty claims of leaving a ratus treatment "feeling like a virgin again." While going back to my 16-year-old virgin self wasn't something I wanted from the treatment, I wasn't against turning back the clock a few years on my slowly widening 30-year-old vagina.
After my 45 minutes of heat, I hopped off the pot so my friend could get her fill. As I waited for her downstairs, I wondered what my husband would think. I very much did this for myself, but I was curious what he would think of the entire ordeal. He knew I was getting the treatment, but neither of us really thought it would amount to be anything more than a holistic way to air things out.
That night, we had sex in the name of research. I mean, we were obligated to, right? To be honest, I wanted to put in my ear infection drops and get to bed, but within moments a big grin came over my husband’s face. “It feels different,” he laughed. "I actually think it's tighter." I tried to be objective. Of course we would think it felt tighter after the day’s build up, but I couldn’t deny my renewed sensitivity. My husband claimed it felt like my entire vagina had contracted, like I was using my Kegel muscles the entire time. I just felt more sensitive and aware than I ever remembered feeling. Both of us ended the mission with giant, contented smirks.
My friend and her boyfriend reported similar results. We went to the outdoor market and purchased multiple bags of what should be every woman’s best friend: ratus powder. After all, don’t our vaginas need love too? I spend big bucks on creams to combat wrinkles, treatments for perfectly highlighted hair, and hours to ensuring that my legs are hair free, yet somewhere along the way I realized that I forgot about my biggest asset, the very thing that makes me feel like a woman. Instead of giving it the care and attention it deserves, my life-giving vagina gets cotton crammed into it once a month for seven days straight and suffers through an annual prodding at the gyno.
Until I visited Bali, I would’ve never thought to give my vagina a spa day, but now I can’t imagine it going without. Since the treatment is picking up popularity in the West, it'll only be a matter of time before more and more women try it. I've realized that not only is it time I start taking care of my vagina, but I also need to start giving myself some self love. My 29 year of life has been full of pressure, anxiety, and worry, so I’m determined to make the first year of my 30s quite the opposite. If I’ve learned anything from my intimate experience, it’s that regardless of age, current life status, or DivaCup size, all it takes is just a little effort, some love, and possibly ratus powder my vagina is as powerful and wonderful as ever.