First of all, lets be real here… vaginas DO have a smell. This smell is typically healthy and normal and caused by our day-to-day vaginal excretions.
Interestingly, just like you and I are not the same, neither are our vaginal odours. Some women naturally have a stronger scent while others do not. The phase of your cycle may also cause subtle variations in your unique smell. Activities that result in sweating, and unprotected sexual intercourse (when sperms get all up in there) may temporarily change the smell of your lady bits.
Fun fact: some individuals are talented enough to really be able to pick up on vaginal smells while others feel blessed that they cannot.
Ideally, your vagina is happiest when its pH is properly balanced (between 3.8-4.5)(1). While its normal for your vagina to smell, any unusual odour or funky discharge may be a sign of a concern.
Spending some time at each phase of your cycle getting a whiff of your bodily fluids is a worthwhile investment in your overall well-being (Yes, I just suggested you smell your vagina). Having a baseline is important in order for you to be aware of when something is “off”. If you are still unsure, here are somethings to look out for.
#1. A Fishy Smell
~”I don’t have a CLUE why I smell FISH in the VAGINA GARDEN: Fish are GREY” ~
This was a mnemonic I l used while studying for my first set of board exams. This saying helped me remember that a grey (or yellow) vaginal discharge, with a fishy smell, that is non painful, with Clue cells (vaginal epithelial cells covered with bacteria) was likely due to an infection of Gardnerella vaginalis. Now you will never forget either!
Gardenerella vaginalis is a common cause of bacterial vaginitis in sexually active women. A diagnosis is made based on common symptoms such as fishy odour as well as the presence of “clue cells” when secretions are viewed under a microscope (1).Trichomoniasis a very common sexually transmistted infection is another potential cause a “fishy” odour.
If you are expereincing symptoms of bacterial vaginosis then you should seek treatment. Physicians often will prescribe antibiotics to clear up the infection and the resulting pungent smell. If you are pregnant then it typically routine to be screened for bacterial vaginosis even if you do not have symptoms. It is important to treat bacterial vaginosis in pregnancy as there is risk of preterm labour.
#2 Other Symptoms — itching, swelling, discharge, or pain while urinating.
A scent plus these other symptoms raises concern that there is something wrong. Cottage cheese-like discharge is classic sign of a yeast infection and pain on urination may point to a UTI. Even seemingly unrelated symptoms such as red eye and joint pain can help your healthcare provider figure out what is going on. Providing you care provider with an honest personal and sexual history is important.
#3 A Rotten Smell
A pungent rotting smell is something you should never ignore as this could be a sign of a medical emergency. This could indicate there is an object inside you have forgotten about, such as a tampon. This happens more often then you would think and is definitely a detail you should never leave out. Toxic shock syndrome while rare is a serious condition that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.
If you have recently delivered a baby (whether miscarriage or live birth) and are noticing a rotting smell, immediate followup with your primary care provider is warranted. Like a lost tampon there is a risk of infection and serious consequences if not controlled.
What to do: I understand the need to feel “fresh” and clean down there. Making simple lifestyle changes to ensure all hell doesn’t break loose in your vagina is worth it in my opinion.
Here’s Some Preventative Tips:
♥ Protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections: Use Barrier methods of contraception such as condoms.
♥ Shower after exercise. Warm, moist environments are a bacteria’s dream breeding ground.
♥ Avoid Vaginal Douches. Simply put nature did not intend for us to be rinsing our vagina’s with soaps & perfumes.
♥ Where 100% cotton underpants
♥ Use chemical free pads over tampons. This eliminates the worry of forgetting to remove a tampon… Life gets busy.
♥ Drink lots of Water & Urinate regularly.
♥ Please, Please, Please do not use chemical crotch perfumes marketed to make your vagina smell like a pumpkin spice latte. Yes …unfortunately these products do exist.
If you are at all concerned, do not hesitate to contact your primary care provider. Our training has exposed us to a lot of gross stuff… Nothing phases us I promise.
BARRY L. HAINER, MD, and MARIA V. GIBSON, MD, PhD. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Apr 1;83(7):807-815.