It’s a common misconception, especially among men, that the vagina should be odor-free. The truth is, the female reproductive organ emits a smell which is unique for each woman. And this smell is never the same within a month because it changes during a woman’s menstrual cycle.
As a matter of fact, this unique smell is a combination of the beneficial bacteria that thrive in your vagina, the food you eat, your level of hygiene, and how much you sweat.
On the other hand, using too many soaps and perfumes to make your lady parts smell nice can actually compromise their natural pH balance. To tell the truth, vaginas are not supposed to smell like perfume.
Now that we’ve established that your unique odor points to a healthy vagina, i.e. one with a balanced pH level, a change in this odor can actually indicate that something is happening down there. For instance, an unusual odor can indicate a lost tampon, vaginal infection or simply the end of a girl’s period.
In order to be able to tell a healthy odor from an alarming one, you first have to familiarize with your specific scent. Some women have a stronger vaginal smell, while others don’t. Normally, a scent that indicates a health problem will be accompanied by other symptoms, such as itching, swelling, discharge or pain while urinating.
1# Fishy scent
The fishy scent is something that asks for immediate medical attention as it could indicate bacterial vaginosis, which is an infection caused by a bacterial imbalance in the vagina, or trichomoniasis – a common curable STI. Both of these infections give off a fishy scent, which is sometimes followed by a white or gray discharge. Luckily, both infections are treated with prescription antibiotics.
2# Metallic scent
This scent is most typical immediately after your period or after inside ejaculation, both of which can interfere with the pH of your vagina, and change its odor. This scent is typically short-term. Should it persists long after your period is gone, it’s well worth discussing with your gynecologist.
3# Yeasty / Bread scent
The thing with yeast infections is that they don’t normally produce a smell, or only give off a mild, bread-like odor, which can actually help you to tell a yeast from bacterial infection. Yeast infections are accompanied by other symptoms, such as thick, white discharge or itchiness.
4# Musky scent
If your vaginal smell is turning heavier and slightly muskier than your normal one, it either means that you’ve been sweating a lot, or that you’ve been wearing tight pants or underwear thus leaving little breathing room for your vagina. In this case, you could use some mild soap for intimate hygiene and wear loose-fitting clothes every now and then. This smell, however, isn’t alarming.
5# Rotten scent
A rotten vaginal scent is something that asks for immediate medical attention because it could be a sign of a lost tampon. Surprisingly, this happens far more often than you can imagine. On the plus side, a tampon that has remained inside your vagina will normally stay near the top of the vagina, until removed, which means it won’t travel to another part of your body.
Apart from the above mentioned risk factors that can influence your vaginal smell, there are other factors that can change the smell of your lady parts. According to Sara Gottfried, M.D. and author of The Hormone Cure “many women notice after having their periods that there is a different odor.” The normal pH of the vagina is below 4.7, which means it’s naturally acidic. Having your period also changes the vaginal pH because menstrual blood has a pH of 7.4. Semen on the other hand has a pH level of about 8, so inside ejaculation can also affect your vaginal smell.
But, on the plus side, keeping your vagina clean and healthy is easier than you think. As Gottfried explains “the vagina is a self-cleaning oven,” which naturally excretes discharge in order to get germs and bacteria out of your body. A bad habit many women get into is douching, which interferes with the vaginal bacteria balance. In reality, gentle soap and some warm water is all you need to maintain your intimate hygiene.
Last, but not least, synthetic underwear is a big NO-NO. It’s the perfect ground for odors; plus, it stimulates sweating. The most vagina-friendly material to use is cotton. Loose-fitting clothes are also recommended as your vagina needs to breathe too.