Vaginal odor. These are likely two words that were never uttered by your high school health teacher. Millions of ladies around the world learn to just figure it out, but there’s still a lot of uncertainty. No one’s really talking about it, and as a result, many of us don’t know what smell is right or wrong. Well, we’re going to uncover what you should know about the smells that are going on down yonder so you don’t have to wonder anymore.
Some Vaginal Odor Is Normal
The truth is, everybody’s vagina has a smell and yours isn’t exempt. In fact, there are a whopping 2,100 odoriferous effluents (AKA scent molecules) that create the smell of the vagina. As a result, each one of our vaginas is made up of a customized set of mini-odors that change throughout your cycle. And I hate to break the news to you, but ‘flowery’ isn’t exactly one of those scents.
The Creation of Your Unique Vaginal Odor
Your unique scent comes from the billions of bacteria lounging around in your vagina and your lifestyle habits. Your vaginal flora is basically a microbial colonization that’s constantly at work trying to keep your vagina’s pH level slightly acidic. An acidic vaginal environment is essentially a protective one so keeping your pH level above 4.5 can prevent disease. If it’s too high, infection can occur which causes a fishy smell.
What You Eat Matters
What you eat affects your vaginal flora and as a result, has an impact on your smell. Consuming the following things can give your vagina a slightly unusual smell:
- Spicy foods
- Smoked foods
- Coffee and
- Excessive amounts of dairy, meat, and alcohol
Research has found that women who follow a mostly plant-based diet have a more pleasant vaginal odor. Staying well hydrated can also help with maintaining a more pleasant scent.
Your Lifestyle Has An Impact
If you work out, then chances are you’ve noticed that you have a slightly stronger smell after you’re done. It’s usually just sweat, which comes from the apocrine glands in your vaginal area. The apocrine glands release an oilier and smellier sweat than other areas of your body and like to hang out near hair follicles.
This might be surprising, but sometimes an unpleasant smell after exercising comes from a little urine leak or discharge. Burpees and box jumps are the types of exercises that can cause your vagina to smell a little musky. If you are experiencing stress incontinence (aka bladder leak) during your workouts, consider using a pad such as the ones offered through Lily Bird.
Your Hormones Play a Role Too
Our hormone levels change throughout the menstrual cycle, as well as during pregnancy and menopause. Research suggests that the vaginal secretions you have during menstruation and between ovulation and your next period could have a more unpleasant odor than those during other parts of your cycle. In addition, our vaginal tissue thins and becomes more acidic during menopause. A more acidic vaginal flora means that your pH level has changed, which could present a different vaginal odor.
Vaginal Odors Uncovered
So now you know that all vaginas have a scent but some scents can indicate that something is wrong. We’re going to breakdown what different scents mean so you can know if it’s normal or not.
Tangy or Sour
If your vagina smells tangy, you’re on the right track. This means that the good bacteria in your vagina outweigh the bad. Your pH balance is likely between 3.8. and 4.5, which is the best type of environment for the good bacteria in your vagina to be in. In other words, you don’t have anything to worry about.
As mentioned before, certain times of the month bring out different smells. Therefore, if you notice a copper-like smell while on your period, that’s pretty normal. After all, blood is made up of iron, which is a metal.
Sweet and Earthy
If your vagina smells sweet, that’s usually not a reason to be concerned. Many women report that eating citrus fruits like oranges and pineapple make their vagina smell (and taste…gasp!) sweeter.
Sometimes a bleach-like smell comes from lubricants or condoms. However, if you haven’t used either of those, it could be ammonia. The build-up of urine in your underwear or dehydration can give off an ammonia-like scent. Another possibility is bacterial vaginosis, which is an overgrowth of bacteria, so be sure to go to the doctor just to be on the safe side.
If your vagina has a strong fishy odor, that’s usually a sign of an infection. Pay attention to if the fishy odor occurs after sex or when there’s an increase in discharge. Those are both signs of bacterial vaginosis. If you notice a fishy smell and see green discharge, go see your doctor as you may have trichomoniasis.
Rotten or Foul
Did you know it’s not uncommon for women to forget about their tampons or for bits of it to get left behind in the vagina? According to doctors, it happens all the time and is usually the reason for a rotten smell. The best solution is to have it removed and then your smell should go back to normal. In other cases, a foul smell is a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease. If the smell is accompanied by a high fever, lower abdominal, pain, or pain during sex, get to your doctor immediately.
The Inside Scoop on Vaginal Odor Debunked
Finally, you can take the guesswork out of vaginal scents. Every woman deserves to know the difference between absolutely normal and not okay. Feel free to share this with someone else so they know what to look for too.
By Jessica Thomas, MPH