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What Does a Normal Vagina Smell Like?

What Does a Normal Vagina Smell Like?

by Shannon Klingman, M.D.

“Why do people say, ‘grow some balls?’ Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” – Betty White

Lume has two body odor battle cries:

1. The vagina is not the cause of odor. If it is, it’s not normal. It is a reservoir for certain fluids like semen, blood and cervical discharge that find their way to our external skin.

2. Body odor is caused by a chemical reaction between bacteria and bodily fluids. It’s not unique to underarms, so why should your deodorant be?

Bacteria + Bodily Fluids = Odor. It’s as simple as that.

Unfortunately, the tired “conga line” of hygiene products on the market today all rush to judgment and assume vaginas are the source of the odor we notice every time we take our pants down! It’s not. We are going to change the way you think about body odor and how to control it. I promise!

Here are some key points to understand, so we never blame the vagina again for day-to-day odor:

1. Anatomy

The vagina is an internal organ and often confused as having an external presence. It is the tubular space from the opening of the vagina to the cervix or bottom of the uterus. Everything you can see on your body is the vulva. The vulva includes the mons, clitoral hood, clitoris, labia majora, labia minora, and perineum.

Why does this matter?

The vulva is the gateway to the vagina and in close proximity to the perianal region (yep, around the anus) where bacteria from our GI tract stand ready to consume bodily fluids like sweat (glands around the vulva and perianal area), semen (leaking from the vagina), blood (from menses) and urine (leaky bladders). Bodily fluids + external bacteria = external odor. Day-to-day odor is an external chemical reaction that needs a long lasting external solution. I, for one, am relieved by this explanation.

2. Vaginal Odor

Outdated “feminine hygiene” products on the market today have done a great job of convincing women that the vagina is the reason for any odor between our legs. They are wrong. Day-to-day odor is external.

Why all the confusion? Get ready…this is genius!

True vaginal odor most commonly occurs with a condition called bacterial vaginosis, or BV. Anaerobic bacteria create an imbalance in the vagina and the pH goes up. Due to the higher pH, cells break down in the vagina, which creates a transudate (watery discharge) that is consumed by the bacteria that then release fishy smelling compounds. It is significantly worse shortly after intercourse.

Here’s the point!

The reaction that happens with BV (inside the vagina) is the same reaction that happens on the outside of our bodies, around the perianal area where anaerobic bacteria from our GI tract consume bodily fluids of a higher pH (semen, blood, sweat, urine), and the odor compounds released are identical.

We have proven this. It explains the confusion.

It is the same odor. Different location, yet very close to the vagina. …But not THE vagina. Odor in the vagina = not normal. External odor = If you are human, it is normal. Does this make sense? Can I get a “hallelujah???” What a relief! 200 years we have been blaming the vagina and nobody questioned it, until now.

If you’re experiencing any white vaginal discharge, please read on.

3. Itching and Irritation

Occasional symptoms can come and go with tight-fitting clothing, intercourse, long bike rides, use of panty liners, and skin sensitivities to detergents, scented products, etc. Everyone experiences this from time to time, and it is normal. This is vulvar though, not vaginal.

If you have persistent vulvar burning, irritation, or itching that is occupying your mind much of the day, this is not normal. Wash the area with mild, unscented natural soap and water, and dry well. You can try a little shea butter, hydrocortisone, and clotrimazole from your local pharmacy two times a day. Be sure to wear cotton underwear. If that doesn’t improve your symptoms after a few days, you need to see your gynecologist. If you’re experiencing any white vaginal discharge, please read on.

4. Vaginal Discharge

Women cycle like the moon and so does our vaginal discharge. It changes throughout the month and throughout our lives. Here is what you should expect. Right after your period, discharge increases in amount, in preparation for ovulation. It is clear and watery and often becomes thicker like an egg white and stretchy. This signals that ovulation is near. After ovulation, the discharge becomes thicker, creamy and more white and opaque. White vaginal discharge to pale yellow is normal. If you are on hormonal birth control, you won’t have the more noticeable cycling of your discharge that happens with fluctuations in hormones. The same is true for our menopausal years.

If you have concerns about your vaginal discharge or white vaginal discharge, check it out. You can get a lot of information by doing this: color, texture, and smell. Wipe the opening of your vagina with a clean damp cloth or baby wipe, place a clean finger up into the space of your vagina and remove it.

5. Vaginal Discharge Color

Clear vaginal discharge is thin and watery or thicker like an egg white. White vaginal discharge is usually thick like a paste or thinner like Elmer’s glue. The same goes for yellow vaginal discharge. If your vaginal discharge is grey or green, this is not normal. Rusty colored discharge, well after your period or in your menopausal years, is not normal and you should consult your gynecologist.

6. Vaginal Discharge Texture

It should be smooth, creamy, thicker like a paste or thin like water or Elmer’s glue.

If it is grainy, foamy or chunky, this is not normal, and you should consult your gynecologist.

7. Vaginal Discharge Smell

Normal healthy vaginal discharge smells a little like milk. If it is foul or fishy that isn’t normal.

Just after your period or intercourse, it can be difficult to assess odors but, if you have a strong fishy odor right after intercourse, that signals a vaginal infection, and you need to get that treated. A slight fishy or off odor on the outside of your vulva or around your rectum hours after intercourse or during your period is normal. It’s just semen and blood reacting with the bacteria normally found in your GI tract. Lume is a silver bullet for external private part odor.

As we age, our estrogen drops, slowing over time, and we notice a decline in the cycling of our discharge, too. Vaginal pH increases and many women notice a change in odor due to the drop in lactobacillus, a healthy vaginal bacterium that lowers the pH of the vagina. The odor is not foul, it just changes, and when it finds its way to the outside of your body, due to the higher pH, the odor can occur when it comes into contact with bacteria commonly found on the outside of our vulva and perianal area. This is a normal change. The good news is Lume is a remedy for this, too.

8. What is all this talk about Vaginal pH?

Vaginal pH ranges from 3.8-4.5 in our reproductive years and goes up to around 5 in menopause. This is normal. It protects our vaginal health. There are normal fluctuations in vaginal pH that occur with our periods and intercourse, but it shouldn’t cause persistent odor. Most odors you notice are external.

How do you know if the pH is normal? No vaginal odor is a sure sign things are in working order, and there is nothing to worry about. Douching disrupts the pH balance of your vagina and increases your risk for chronic imbalances like Bacterial Vaginosis. Douching can push bacteria up into our reproductive organs, like the uterus and fallopian tubes, and cause pelvic infections and scarring. Douching is the single worst thing you can do for your vaginal health! It’s the new “smoking” for the vagina.

9. Vaginal Pain

The vagina or vulva shouldn’t give you pain when touched. There are conditions called vaginismus and vulvodynia that are real and require biofeedback and physical therapy to resolve. These conditions can make intercourse, touching, and pelvic exams very difficult for women. You deserve to live a rich full life without these concerns and there is help available if you are willing to take the steps to resolve them. Ask your gynecologist about your treatment options.

Related Article: ”Your Vagina is Not to Blame, or is It?”

Lume Deodorant for Underarms & Private Parts in clinically proven to provide 72 hours of odor control and you can use it anywhere on your body!

You can also keep odor at bay when you're on-the-go with Lume's biodegradable individually-wrapped or multi-pack Deodorant Wipes. For head-to-toe confidence that comes with wiping away odor ANYWHERE you have it but wish you didn't, Lume Deodorant Wipes are a shower in your pocket, purse, or gym bag.

Did you Lumē today?

*Disclaimer: Lume is not intended to diagnose or treat conditions of the vulva or vagina and should only be used externally. If you continue to have odor concerns after using Lume a few days, consult your gynecologist.

Shannon Klingman, M.D.

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