What Does A Healthy Vagina Smell Like?

Hands up if you’re tired of uninformed noise on the internet about how your vagina should smell? You’re not alone. The internet can be a confusing place from people suggesting that your vagina should not have any scent at all to people giving vagina cleaning advice which could cause thrush and irritation. We’re here with the facts.

A healthy vagina produces small amounts of fluid (commonly known as discharge), throughout your menstrual cycle. A certain amount of vaginal discharge is normal and a sign that your vagina is cleansing itself of old, dead cells, secretions, and bacteria. Healthy discharge has a protective mechanism, helping to prevent infection and disease. Vaginal discharge is absolutely normal and should not concern you. But some types of vaginal discharge are a sign that something is wrong. Do you know how to tell the difference? We are here to break it down for you.

What is normal healthy discharge?

Every woman is different, and so there is no single template for ‘normal’. If you aren’t sure what that means for you, you may want to begin paying attention to how your vaginal discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Some women may have discharge every day, and some will have it only during certain times of the month. Generally speaking, healthy vaginal discharge is clear, cloudy, or milky in colour. Around 1 teaspoon per day is a normal amount, though there may be less. You may experience much more if you are sexually aroused.

Around the time of ovulation (around Day 14 of your cycle, counting the first day of your period as Day 1), this discharge can become thick, clear, and stretchy, somewhat resembling a very thick egg white. This is normal and passes in a day or two.

It is also normal to produce extra vaginal fluid when you are sexually excited. This clear fluid, called transudate, lubricates the vaginal wall and provides a path for sperm to travel along into the uterus.

Clear, watery discharge can occur at different times during your cycle and is related to oestrogen levels. Occasional clear watery discharge is normal and nothing to worry about.

Should a healthy vagina have any smell at all?

Normal vaginal discharge has a mild, musky scent that is not unpleasant. This means that a  slight smell is normal. Any foul (bad) or strong smell, or a smell that is unusual, is a sign that things are out of balance, and that you should get yourself checked out.

What are signs something is wrong? 

One of the main ways to know whether or not something is wrong is if you notice something that is particularly out of the ordinary. If you suddenly notice a change in consistency, smell, or amount of discharge that is not in keeping with your usual menstrual cycle changes and regular patterns, something may be amiss. A very strong smell, change in colour and consistency, and accompanying symptoms, are signs that you may need a visit to the doctor to rule out infection.

Types of abnormal discharge

White: A whitish discharge is normal, especially just after and just before your period. If the discharge is especially thick and solid white, has a lumpy consistency like cottage cheese, and is accompanied by itching, soreness, or redness, you may have a yeast infection.

Yellow or green: These colours can indicate an infection, such as gonorrhoea or trichomoniasis. The discharge may also be lumpy, and have an unpleasant smell.

White, gray, or yellow: A fishy odour accompanying this discharge could indicate bacterial vaginosis, an imbalance of natural vaginal flora which can also cause vaginal itching, soreness and discomfort.

Brown: The colour indicates the presence of blood, and it is normal to have this just before or just after your period. It is also called ‘spotting’, and if it happens at other times during your cycle it is worth getting checked out, as it can indicate a number of conditions (it may be a sign of early pregnancy).

What are the causes of abnormal discharge?

In addition to sexually transmitted diseases, there are some other things that can upset the balance of natural flora in the vagina and cause abnormal discharge, including:

  • bacterial vaginosis (BV), a bacterial infection caused by pH imbalance
  • the contraceptive pill
  • taking a course of antibiotics
  • soaps and bubble bath
  • yeast infection
  • sexually transmitted infections (such as Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea)
  • diabetes
  • cervical cancer

What happens when I see the doctor?

If you are experiencing abnormal discharge, it is important to get it checked out by a doctor who can reassure you. This is especially important if you have other symptoms such as pain, itching, or discomfort. The doctor will ask you questions about when the discharge started, and any associated symptoms and lifestyle changes. They may examine you and, depending on your symptoms, they may take a vaginal swab to send to the lab for testing. If you have recently had unprotected sex with a new partner and your symptoms have started since then, the doctor may advise you to have an STD test.

Once you have a diagnosis, the doctor will advise you regarding treatment options and a solution that works for you.

Tips for a healthy vagina  

Now that you know the signs of infection or imbalance, and what kind of vaginal discharge is normal and healthy, here are some ways to ensure that it stays that way!

  • Know your “normal” – pay attention to your discharge and how it changes throughout your cycle. You may begin to notice the patterns of how it changes before and after your period, or during ovulation. If you know what is normal for you, it is easier to know when something is up.
  • Avoid soap – as discharge is protective, washing it all away leaves the vagina open to infection. Not to mention that the tissues up there are extra sensitive. Washing with just plain water will do the trick.
  • For the same reason, never douche!
  • Wear loose-fitting underwear in natural, breathable fabrics.
  • You don’t want bacteria from the anus to get anywhere near the vagina, as it can create infection. This means being careful to wipe from front to back. It also means that, although going from vaginal to anal sex is fine, never switch from anal to vaginal sex without changing the condom.
  • Use condoms when having sex with new or open partners.
  • Take probiotics to boost your body’s levels of good bacteria.

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