MN, M.D.: When It Comes To Vaginal Odor, What’s Normal?
Q: When it comes to vaginal odor, what’s normal and how can you improve your smell?
It is important to talk not only about vaginal odor but also vaginal discharge because that is what usually causes the odor you smell. It is quite normal to have vaginal discharge because it helps in lubricating your female parts and acts as a “cleaner” to help remove cells and bacteria from your system. Usually, vaginal discharge can be clear, white or light yellow in color. Things like sex, diet, your menstrual cycle, contraceptive use, pregnancy, antibiotics, and the use of hygiene products can influence the colors and the odor of vaginal discharge. Just like your breath or your feet, having a certain mild odor from your vagina can be normal.
When should you be concerned and how do you improve the smell?
First of all, you know your body. If you smell vaginal odor that is stronger than what you feel is normal, it may just be the body telling you that something is wrong. There are certain smells that have been linked to certain infections. For example, usually if your vagina starts to smell “fishy,” it is likely because of an overgrowth of a certain bacteria that causes an infection called bacterial vaginosis. In addition, symptoms such as itching, burning, redness, soreness, greenish-yellow discharge, bleeding, pain with sex, stomach pain, or pelvic pain suggest that you are dealing with something not normal. If this is the case, talk to your doctor about it. It might be an infection that needs to be treated or may signal something else of concern with your female parts.
It is common practice to use feminine hygiene products or to douche the smell away. Douching changes the delicate balance and ph of your vagina, which potentially leads to an overgrowth of infection-causing bacteria (eg, yeast infection). Overall, douching is not a good option for vaginal odors as it can cause or make worse any infection within your female parts.
However, there are other ways to keep your vagina healthy and prevent any smell from occurring. First of all, it is best to use water or unscented non-soap cleanser to clean your female parts. Don’t be afraid to use your hands to wash your “va jay jay.” Try to avoid using washcloths. When you go to the bathroom, wipe from front to back to avoid spreading bacteria from your butt region to your vagina. Either rinse your female parts with water or pat it dry after going to the bathroom. Try to avoid using scented products as it can irritate your female parts or potentially cause an infection. Wear cotton or cotton-lined underwear to keep the area cool. Avoid tight pants and skip the pantyhose in the summer. Lastly, as certain STDs (eg, gonorrhea, Chlamydia) can also cause a smell “down there,” practicing safe sex will help reduce the risk of getting these diseases, and ultimately, getting a certain smell from them.