Most bacteria are completely harmless. But a porous piece of jade, as once promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire Goop, could be harmful and deliver a potentially nasty infection, writes Siouxsie Wiles, ahead of an Auckland appearance by gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter
Being a microbiologist, people often ask me if I’m a germaphobe. I’m not. I don’t use antibacterial wipes or obsessively try to remove all traces of bacteria from my home. That would be impossible. Bacteria are everywhere and most of them are completely harmless. But there are some things I will draw the line at. And stuffing a jade “egg” into my vagina is one of them.
No really, it’s a thing. A couple of years ago, actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s wellness empire Goop started selling egg-shaped pieces of jade for people to insert into their vaginas. Suitable for use day or night, apparently. And for the bargain sum of US$66.
If you are wondering why anyone would be tempted to pop a lump of jade inside them, it’s probably because they believed Goop’s claims the eggs were a “strictly guarded secret of Chinese royalty in antiquity” used by queens and concubines to “cultivate sexual energy, clear chi pathways, intensify femininity”. Oh, and invigorate our “life force”.
I’m not sure how a piece of jade popped inside your vagina is able to do any of those things. To be honest, I’m not sure I even know what sexual energy is. As a fan of superheroes, what immediately springs to my mind is something like the red electrical sparks that Marvel’s Wanda Maximoff can conjure up, only instead of them coming out of her fingers, they shoot from her genitals.
What I do know is that a porous piece of jade could act as a source of harmful bacteria and a potentially nasty infection. Depending on the bacterium, such an infection could lead to infertility or the potentially deadly toxic-shock syndrome. Not even remotely invigorating or sexy.
In fairness, Goop did suggest that people check with their doctor before using one. Twitter’s favourite gynaecologist Dr Jen Gunter saved them the trouble, writing an open letter pointing out all the reasons why jade eggs are a bad idea and giving her expert opinion that they shouldn’t be inserted into anyone’s vagina.
Then Dr Gunter went a step further. She teamed up with archaeologist Dr Sarah Parcak from the University of Alabama to see whether jade eggs really were used in ancient China by queens and concubines “to stay in shape for emperors”. They didn’t just do a quick Google search. Instead, they searched for the word “jade” in the collection databases of four major Chinese art and archaeology collections, each of which contains a huge number of objects from across Chinese history. Their findings have recently been published in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery.
Their search identified more than 5,000 jade objects. And not a single one of those 5,000 could be described as a vaginal egg, though there was one jade butt plug. There is also no mention of jade eggs in any of the sexual yoga texts that describe Taoist sexual practices over the ages. Dr’s Gunter and Parcak conclude that Goop’s jade eggs are less ancient Chinese wisdom and more a modern marketing myth. What a surprise.
Dr Gunter will be in Aotearoa New Zealand on holiday next week and has very generously agreed to give a talk while she’s here. She’ll be speaking at the University of Auckland’s Grafton campus at 7pm on Tuesday 9 April. Tickets are $5-$10 and available on here . Funds raised will cover an honorarium for Dr Gunter and a donation to ALRANZ.
The Spinoff’s science content is made possible thanks to the support of The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, a national institute devoted to scientific research.