Like acne and armpit hair, vaginal smells are simply something your body does. But while it’s normal for your va-jay-jay to have a distinct odor, and to smell slightly musky or sweaty (especially if you’ve just finished a workout or haven’t showered in too long), there are other scents that can indicate something is off down there. Your vagina, like other parts of your body, is home to a whole lot of bacteria. When everything is balanced, the good bacteria run the show, keeping vaginal odors in check. But when bad bugs take over, it throws off your vaginal pH, which can lead to funky or even foul odors. Here’s a look at a few common vaginal odors and what they might mean.
Could be: Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This common vaginal infection, which almost a third of women will experience at some point in their lives, usually shows up as an off-white or grayish discharge that has a foul smell. The fishy odor is often most noticeable after sex or during your period. BV isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, but having sex can make it more likely, especially if you’re with a new partner.
What to do: Don’t panic, but do make an appointment to see your gyno. If they diagnose BV, you’ll need antibiotics, usually either metronidazole or clindamycin. These can be taken by mouth or via a gel or cream that’s inserted into your vagina. While you wait for things to improve, don’t wash your vagina with any perfumed soaps, and definitely don’t douche (two things you should never do anyway). This won’t fix the smell, and can make the infection worse by further upsetting the pH balance down there.
Could be: A yeast infection
75 percent of all women experience at least one yeast infection during their lives. These infections, which can also cause itching and a cottage cheese-like discharge, are caused by fungal overgrowth in your vagina. This can happen after you take a course of antibiotics, for example, or if you have a condition that leaves you more susceptible to them, like type two diabetes. Or it can happen for no reason at all, and some women are especially prone to yeast infections.
What to do: Depending on how uncomfortable you are, you could wait a day (yeast infections sometimes resolve on their own) or call your gyno and describe your symptoms. They may want to take a sample of the discharge to make sure it is indeed yeast, or they may recommend you use an over-the-counter anti-fungal medicine such as butoconazole (Gynazole, Femstat) or miconazole (Monistat).
Could be: your period
When it’s that time of the month, the blood hangs out in your vagina for a bit, which means it comes in contact with other bacteria lurking in your nether regions. The result can be a sharp, somewhat metallic smell, possibly caused by the iron in your blood reacting with your body’s microbes. Since bacteria in your vagina can vary from month to month, the odor may sometimes seem stronger than others. Once your period finishes, the smell should go away. But if symptoms linger, see your gyno: it could indicate an undiagnosed infection of some kind.
Just . . wrong
Could be: something serious
If you whiff an especially icky smell from your private parts, take it seriously. Make sure there isn’t an old tampon stuck up there. This is more common than you’d think — the vagina is quite elastic, so it’s possible for a tampon to get pushed in deep if you forget about it and have sex or insert a second tampon. (The original tampon usually turns sideways, so the string gets drawn in and you simply forget about it). If you think that’s what’s going on, get medical help. Don’t be embarrassed — trust us, doctors and nurses have seen it all.
A foul odor could also indicate a sexually transmitted infection like gonorrhea or trichomoniasis. Get tested right away, either in person or with an STI Home Test Kit. These STIs are easily treatable, but can cause longterm health issues if left untreated.
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