One of the most sensitive topics to all vagina bearers is vaginal odour. This stems from a deep-rooted societal prejudice and ignorance and is certainly augmented by all the commercials about scented intimate soap, perfumed pads, or even weird (and dangerous) trends like douching and vaginal steaming.
Know 5 DOs and DONTs of feminine vaginal wash, and keep your vagina healthy!
The truth is every vagina has a scent – that’s how it always has been, and how it always will be – but not every smell is natural. In fact, some vaginal odours might indicate infections or other problems. Jump on and let’s talk about vaginal odour, what to expect and what to watch out for.
The scent of healthy: what is the right vaginal odour?
Well, there isn’t one. “What?” Yep – there isn’t a one universally right vaginal odour. We’ve said it many, many times: every woman is different, every body is different, every vagina is different, so, it makes total sense that every vaginal odour is also different.
This is why it is quite difficult to pinpoint what a healthy vaginal odour is, so let’s try to understand what is not a healthy vaginal odour.
A fishy smell might indicate an infection, even if it is not such a strong smell. If you notice your vaginal odour changing from “normal” to “fish-like”, go see your doctor, even if you8 have no other symptoms. It could be Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), an infection caused by a pH imbalance in your vaginal flora, and that is commonly associated with vaginal discharge and itching. Trichomoniases is also a cause of a pungent fishy vaginal odour. This is the most common and easily treatable STI.
The smell of something rotten
If your vaginal odour is like that of a rotten organism (imagine rotten raw meat, left in the bin for days), this quite probably means you left a tampon in there, and the rotten smell comes from the blood. If you notice this smell, check for forgotten tampons. If there isn’t any or you can’t find it or take it out, see a doctor straight away. Remember that a forgotten tampon might cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Foul vaginal odour
“Foul” here, is a bit subjective. If your vagina has a weird and bad smell but isn’t exactly fishy or rotten, you might have Chlamydia, especially if accompanied by discharge. It can also just be a really bad BV. If you have a fever and pain in the lower abdomen, along with a foul vaginal odour and discharge, this can mean you have Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. PID is serious and you should see a doctor in any of these cases.
Bread-y and yeast-y
Might sound weird, but sometimes vaginas can smell a bit like sourdough bread or yeast. In this case, you can have a yeast infection. There are more possible symptoms of yeast infections, like thick, white, and non-smelly discharge, and itching in the vulva and vagina. Yeast infections are easily treatable and not very dangerous but very annoying. They can be caused by a series of things, like using bad underwear – know which kind of underwear is the best for your vagina.
Cheesy vaginal odour
A cheesy vaginal odour is also not very normal. It might be an indication of an infection developing, a yeast infection, or a combination of factors. If it is intense, go see your gyno.
Do you suspect you might have a rash down there? Check this guide on how to handle a vaginal rash.
What possible scents can a healthy vaginal odour include?
Now that you know what odours are not healthy, let’s try and describe what a normal healthy vaginal odour is like.
Just like perfume, your vagina can have a complex scent, with many fragrance notes. Sometimes, vaginal odour tends to be kind of acidic. This is not problematic, since the pH in your vagina is moderately acidic – at around 4; only if it becomes too acidic.
Some other times, vaginal odour can be slightly sour. In fact, sometimes, it can also smell a bit like yoghurt or like something fermented. This, in principle, is no problem, since it might indicate the presence of good bacteria called Lactobacillus. Only if it becomes too sour, like bad milk, it can be a reason to worry.
If you’ve recently had your period or had very vigorous sex (which can cause some small lesions), your vaginal odour can become a bit metallic. This is normal since blood has iron and also has a metallic smell. If there is no pain associated or other symptoms, this smell goes away in a few days. If it persists, it might be something else.
And lastly, some women describe their vaginal odours as sweet or sweaty or even earthy. First of all, a sweet smell can be an indication of bacteria. However, a bit of sweetness in your natural scent is no cause for alarm. If you notice your vaginal odour smelling like sweat, don’t worry. It is sweat – we do sweat down there! However, it can indicate you are under stress, especially if it is a “new” smell.
Don’t forget: vaginal odour almost always fluctuates during the menstrual cycle. It is normal to have slightly different scents during the month. The only reason to worry is if your natural scent changes drastically and becomes bothersome. And if your vaginal odour is not fishy, rotten, cheesy, foul or yeasty, you are probably fine. Do not buy into the lie that your vaginal odour must be hidden and masked – no one ever notices it in your day-to-day but you! – with scented soaps and perfumed pads or panty liners! Stay away from chemicals and fragrances, go natural. However, if you ever have any doubts, just check with your gynaecologist – better safe than sorry.
Take care. Of the planet. Of yourself. Of your vagina.