In these trying times, it's nice to know some scams are as painfully obvious as they seem. According to a new study, vaginal jade eggs aren't an ancient Chinese remedy for women's sexual problems, as promoters often claim they are — they're actually a modern invention.
Vaginal jade eggs have fast become a mascot for the new age and alternative medicine crowd, thanks largely to their promotion by the Gwyneth Paltrow-led lifestyle brand Goop. The polished gemstone eggs are inserted into the vagina and are ostensibly meant to be weights that can boost the effectiveness of kegel exercises, which strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
Because these muscles support the bladder, rectum, and uterus, kegel exercises can help prevent urinary incontinence in women (or men) whose muscles have weakened, oftentimes due to things like childbirth, ageing, and certain surgeries.
But while kegel exercises might be legitimate, jade eggs aren't at all, according to lead author and gynaecologist Jen Gunter.
Gunter has devoted plenty of her free time to debunking pseudoscience in the area of women's health over the years, but she's especially had it out for Goop, including the jade egg.
For starters, she and others have pointed out that jade eggs are a prime example of quackery, with many proponents claiming that they will not only rejuvenate your vagina, but also restore your chi. But even the evidence that they can help someone better perform kegel exercises is severely lacking.
And because jade eggs are porous and are supposed to stay in the vagina for hours at a time, they could potentially introduce harmful germs or throw off the delicate bacterial balance of the vagina.
In the new study, published Friday in the journal Female Pelvic Medicine & Reconstructive Surgery, Gunter decided to take a new tack. She and her co-author Sarah Parcak, an archaeologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, took a deep dive into the supposed history of the jade egg.
Proponents tend to back their sales pitch of the eggs by claiming that they've been used for more than 2000 years, when it was first adapted as an "ancient Taoist tradition" by members of the Chinese royal empire as well as the emperor's concubines. But when Gunter and Parcak looked at the online databases of four major Chinese art and archeology collections in the US, they came up short.
Of the 5000 jade objects viewable in the databases, the pair did find a jade buttplug (used to keep someone's chi in after death), as well as a jade faberge egg, but not a single vaginal jade egg. The products are also known as yoni eggs and can be made with other gemstones beside jade, but according to Gunter, there was no reference to any kind of vaginal egg found in the searches of ancient texts they also did either.
It is worth pointing out, however, that Gunter and Parcak didn't look at every potential source of archaeology data, such as museums in China.
"I welcome someone finding a reference. That is the thing about science," Gunter told Gizmodo. "But unproven claims are not acceptable."
While Goop and other jade egg sellers would hardly be the first to market their products with claims about their supposedly ancient past, Gunter takes umbrage at what she considers to be misleading marketing.
"It matters because facts matter. Many women buy products under the guise that something advertised as 'ancient' is worthy," Gunter said. "This appears to be a modern marketing myth."
As it turns out, the government thinks so, too. In September, Goop agreed to a settlement of $US145,000 ($206,230) over a lawsuit filed against it by California prosecutors. The lawsuit alleged the company had engaged in false advertising by claiming that jade eggs would not only help women with bladder control, but also balance their hormones and regulate their menstrual cycle.
The lawsuit also went after Goop for advertising that claimed its essential oils could treat depression.
While the settlement seemingly bars Goop from marketing its products with any health claims, the jade egg itself remains available for purchase through the Goop online store.
"There is zero evidence they are ancient and zero evidence they are effective and we have no idea how to clean them," Gunter said. "Women are free to make whatever choices they want with their bodies, but having accurate information is what allows them to make empowered choices."