Keeping your vagina clean and healthy 5 Odour your vagina shouldn’t smell like
Feminine odor is something all women deal with. And while it’s natural for your vagina to have some kind of smell, certain smells can signal something’s wrong.
Vaginal odor is the smell that your vagina and usually your discharge – gives off. A certain amount of vaginal odor is normal, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG). Vaginal smell variations are likely a result of your menstrual cycle, your hygiene habits, or just you being you.
Here are a few things that might cause your vagina’s natural scent to go awry:
1. Smelling like fish
A fish smell can indicate bacterial vaginosis. Several bacteria grow in your vagina. They are completely normal and keep the vagina healthy. Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an imbalance of different types of bacteria. It is helped by washing the vagina with soap, vaginal showers or sprays, holding down a tampon too long, antibiotics or an IUD.
Sometimes bacterial vaginosis has no symptoms. Other times it can lead to symptoms such as a thick or foaming discharge that is usually white or grey or yellowish, a strong smelly fish smell (especially after sex or washing with soap) and itching.
Reasons for a dead fish odor
- Bacterial vaginosis. “You get bacterial vaginosis when there’s an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina,” says Minkin. “And these anaerobic organisms are odorous.”
- Trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is the most common curable sexually transmitted infection and easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. It’s known for its pungent fishy odor. “The trichomoniasis infection can be quite smelly,” says Minkin. “It’s a more pronounced fishy odor than bacterial vaginosis.”
2. Yeast infection
This is a very common type of fungal infection and is caused by the overgrowth of a type of yeast known as candida. Shape says the most obvious symptom is the presence of a thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese. Other symptoms include redness and itching around the vaginal area, as well as a burning sensation or pain when you urinate or have sex. Even though yeast infections don’t come with a strong odour, there can sometimes also be a mild scent that resembles bread or yeast.
There are over-the-counter medications to treat this but, If it’s your first time getting a yeast infection, see your doctor first before you buy any medications, and if it doesn’t improve or keeps returning, get some advice from your doctor too.
Reasons for a sweet odor
- Bacteria. Yep, bacteria again. Your vaginal pH is an ever-changing bacterial ecosystem. And sometimes this means you might smell a little sweet.
3. Your vagina smells like copper or metal
If you’re smelling a coppery smell, it’s could be tied to blood. Blood contains iron, which is responsible for the metallic smell. Teen Vogue says if you’re on your period, that could be the cause of the copper odour. Even if it’s not your period, you could be experiencing light bleeding from sex and that could be the culprit. A copper smell is no cause for alarm, unless you’re also experiencing itching, burning and/or suspicious discharge.
To treat it, try using a lubricant if you’re experiencing light bleeding related to intercourse; the additional moisture can help prevent small cuts or scrapes from forming in the vagina.
Reasons for a coppery odor
- Blood. Blood contains iron, which has a metallic smell. The most common reason for blood is menstruation. During your period, blood and tissue shed from your uterine lining and travel through your vaginal canal.
- Sex. Light bleeding after sex can be common. This is usually due to vaginal dryness or vigorous sex that can cause small cuts or scrapes. To prevent this, try using lube.
4. Smelling like fermented foods
Speaking to Healthline, Dr Mary Jane Minkin, who has more than 30 years of experience working in women’s health says, it’s very common for vaginas to produce a tangy or sour aroma. Some compare it to the smell of fermented foods. In fact, yoghurt, sourdough bread, and even some sour beer contain the same type of good bacteria that dominate most healthy vaginas: Lactobacilli.
The pH of a healthy vagina is slightly acidic, between 3.8 and 4.5. “The Lactobacilli bacteria keep the vagina acidic,” says Minkin. “This protects against an overgrowth of the bad kinds of bacteria.”
If it smells curiously similar to that sour IPA you had last weekend, don’t freak out.
Reasons for a tangy odor
- Acidity. The pH of a healthy vagina is slightly acidic, between 3.8 and 4.5. “The Lactobacilli bacteria keep the vagina acidic,” says Minkin. “This protects against an overgrowth of the bad kinds of bacteria.”
5. Rotten like a decaying organism
You accidentally left a tampon in there, It happens and probably more often than you’d think, Lauren Streicher, a professor of clinical obstetrics and genecology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF. Some people may put in a just-in-case tampon toward the end of their period and forget about it, don’t remember that they have one in before putting in a new one, or forget and have sex with one in and it gets pushed sideways into the back of cervix, she says. “Every gynaecologist has had the experience of a woman coming in with an odor, discovering it was a forgotten tampon, and feeling mortified,” she says.
Reasons for a rotten odor
- A forgotten tampon. Inadvertently letting a tampon go days, even weeks, inside a vagina is much more common than you’d think. “I can’t tell you how many tampons I’ve taken out of patients,” says Minkin. “This happens to lots and lots of people. It isn’t something you need to be embarrassed about.”
When you should see a doctor
In general, abnormal odors should be easy to spot. They’re the ones that make your face scrunch up. Rotting fish, dead organism, decay — these are all red flag odors.
If there’s a serious cause, often other symptoms will appear alongside the smell.
See your doctor if an odor is accompanied with:
- itching or burning
- pain during sex
- thick, cottage cheese discharge
- vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period
Smells change, and that’s OK
Subtle shifts in your vaginal fragrance is normal. Remember, the way your vagina smells has everything to do with its pH. And there are lots of things that affect your pH.
Take penile vaginal sex, for instance. Semen has a relatively high pH, so it’s super normal to notice a different kind of smell after you’ve had penile vaginal sex. Don’t worry though, this change is only temporary.
Menopause also has an effect on vaginal pH. “Due to a lack of estrogen, women in menopause end up with less vaginal mucosa,” says Minkin. “Vaginal mucosa lines the vagina and nurtures the Lactobacilli bacteria. So, without these cells you can end up with a much higher pH.”
Our advice? Don’t be afraid to really get to know your vagina, in all its fragrant glory. The better you understand the smells your vagina produces day to day, the more prepared you’ll be when something goes amiss. After all, vaginas do so many wonderful things for us. It’s about time we start understanding what they’re really all about.