Vaginas smell and it is not the same odor of every woman. A woman will experience varying odors from time to time. It is quite natural for the odor to vary at different times of the day and night. It is hard to generalize how a vagina smells or should smell as it is a combination of many factors. What can be ascertained is how your vagina should not smell!
Normal Odor in and around the Vagina
Humans have different kinds of body odor. Our face and neck smell differently from our armpits. The obvious reason is sweat, oil and bacteria. Armpits sweat and the sebaceous glands produce more sedum, thereby facilitating growth of bacteria and it is also common for fungi to thrive on the skin and the hair. This leads to the foul odor that is associated with armpits. Likewise, sweaty feet smell and so do feet after you have had a long day in socks and shoes. The feet smell worse when there is excessive growth of microbes, not just on the skin but also in the toenails.
Vaginas usually do not have any smell right after a shower, especially if you have properly washed the genital area. The vagina will start to smell in a few hours when sweat accumulates. Many bacteria live on and inside the vagina so they will have a distinct odor. Vaginas are rarely odorless but for the short time after a bath or douche. The healthiest of vaginas will have strong odors. A smelly vagina is not an obvious sign of any anomaly. However, there are distinct odors that do indicate a problem.
It is easy to say that every woman has a unique odor in her vagina. This is not true. Most women have similar odors. The odor will vary and be influenced by any factors including diet, the biochemical composition inside the vagina, the health of the skin around it, hygiene, grooming habits, choice of underwear which is mostly about synthetics or natural fabrics, hormones and the optimum functioning of several glands. Vaginas secrete pheromones and they influence the odor. Pheromones are actually desirable as they trigger excitement and sexual interest.
Abnormal Odor in and around the Vagina
More than the normal odor, women should be conscious of abnormal odor in and around the vagina. A vagina should not have the odor of rotten fish. It should not have any rotten smell. If it feels something is rotten down there, then you have some kind of infection or inflammation. The infection could be bacterial, fungal or yeast. There may be other issues too. An imbalance of good and bad bacteria can cause abnormal odor. Routine changes in odor are not cause for concern. Women will have distinct odors before, during and after periods. The pH changes in and around the vagina depending on sexual activity, hormones, health, grooming and diet. Semen is basic so it tends to change the pH to alkaline. Diets may turn the pH to acidic. Poor hygiene may also do the same.
Vaginas can clean themselves so the pH will be restored in some time. Vaginas get rid of bad bacteria, germs, fungi and yeast. These discharges may be colorless or vary from grey to yellow, neon green and other quaint hues. If the discharge is colored, then you should see your gynecologist. If any abnormal odor is accompanied by a discharge, pain and itchiness, then you must immediately consult your gynecologist. Many women experience some odor due to the use of specific kinds of underwear, perfumes or scented products and other accessories. Stopping such use will restore the natural odor. Bad odor is not always a sign of any serious health issue in or around the vagina.
Unpleasant Odors in and around the Vagina
Fishy scent or the smell of something rotting is unpleasant and it demands a diagnosis. Mildly fishy smell that does not persist for long is not a problem. Sustained fishy and rotten smell may be caused by trichomoniasis and bacterial vaginosis. The latter, bacterial vaginosis, is a common infection due to imbalance of good and bad bacteria. It is not a sexually transmitted infection. Trichomoniasis is a very common sexually transmitted infection and it is curable. The infection may also spread through nonsexual contact. These two conditions usually have a gray or white discharge. Both conditions can be treated by prescribed antibiotics. It should be noted that neither is a yeast infection.
Metallic scent is unpleasant but it is not concerning. Most women will have a metallic odor in and around their vagina after periods and immediately after having sex, especially if condom is not used and the genital area gets exposed to semen. Vagina is acidic and there is a temporary transformation to basic or alkaline due to the exposure to semen. The metallic odor will fade soon enough. Unless you have any discharge, itching or pain and the metallic scent prevails for days, there is no need to worry or seek any advice from your gynecologist.
Your vagina may have an odor associated with bread. This is the yeasty scent caused by an infection. Yeast infections are very common. However, yeast infections do not always cause any odor. There may be itchiness and white discharge, usually thick, but no prominent odor. Many women observe a faint yeasty or subtle bread like smell, almost musty. This is usually due to yeast infections. A musky scent is not due to yeast infections though. Musty odor is quite normal and common. It does not indicate any underlying problem or infection. It is normal for the odor to be more or less musty from time to time.
Not all fishy odors are associated with a scent of something rotten. There may be a rotten odor without any fishy scent. If a vagina starts to smell like something is rotten and the odor is quite intense, it is best to see a gynecologist immediately. It is quite possible a tampon had gone astray and you may have forgotten about it. There could be other problems as well. Vaginal smells do have a pattern. Unless something is wrong or there are changes to your diet, lifestyle including sexual habits, grooming, hygiene, choice of underwear and apparel, use of cosmetics and overall health, the vagina will smell the same at certain times of the day, week and month.
How to Avoid Bad Odor in and around the Vagina
Do not use any product that will alter the natural odor of your vagina. Do not use bath salts you have never heard of. Avoid scented douches. Do not use any synthetic perfume for your vagina to smell nice. This will cause an adverse reaction and you will have one of the abnormal and unpleasant odors due to the response of your body. Avoid using makeup down there. Do not use any product that will alter the pH of your vagina. If you have to use lubes, wipes, tampons and condoms, make sure you choose reliable brands.
You may want to undergo tests for hormonal imbalance. Women do experience hormonal imbalance all the time. If the imbalance is not too severe, you may not feel anything and life goes on like every other day or night. Symptoms of hormonal imbalance occur when there is substantial depletion of one or excessive secretion of another. While these symptoms are obvious, bad odor in your vagina may be a sign of some kind of hormonal imbalance. Do not go for tests if you have a transient scent in your vagina. Opt for tests if the bad odor persists for days.
You can check your microbiome to know for certain that there is no bacterial imbalance. This is also related to hormonal imbalance. Too many factors play a role in hormonal secretions and balance of good & bad bacteria in the body, right from the gastrointestinal tracts to the vagina. Even the bacteria and other microbes that live on our skin are influenced by hormones, immune system, lifestyle, diet and overall health. There are many ways to ensure optimum microbiome health. You may detoxify, eat more leafy vegetables and greens, lemons and fiber. You should reduce intake of sugar, coffee, dairy and animal protein.
Do not use untested items to stimulate your sex life. You should not expose your vagina to foreign objects that are not proven to be completely safe. This not only applies to sex toys but also apparently common products such as lubricants. You need lubricants that do not contain petroleum, silicon, parabens and additives. Always choose organic products.
Do not use old and worn out underwear. Fabrics get hardened over time. Even if you have only natural fabrics, you must upgrade underwear from time to time if you wish to avoid bad odor in your vagina. You need underwear that is easy on the skin, lets your vagina breathe and does not retain too much sweat. The fabrics should not irritate the vagina and they must not contribute to bacterial imbalance or yeast growth. Organic or breathable cotton is your best choice.
How to Reduce and Eliminate Vaginal Odor
Focus on your hygiene. Wash your vagina every day, at least once during your shower. It is actually better to wash your vagina after every time you urinate. However, only wash the outside. There is no need to spray water inside your vagina. Use mild soap and a soft washcloth. Do not use harsh materials to clean the vagina. Do not rub the area unnecessarily and excessively to clean it. The body has its own mechanism to cleanse the vagina so you need to do something special. All you have to do is gently clean the area to get rid of sweat, dirt and dead skin. This simple ritual will also get rid of bad bacteria and other microbes from the area.
Do not use any product that has to be applied inside the vagina. If you are using tampons, make sure they are of the finest quality and there is no need to use scented or perfumed ones. Do not use anything that will alter the biochemistry of your vagina. Change underwear whenever you observe any bad smell. It is not ideal to use the same underwear for the whole day and night.
You may use some natural homemade remedies such as essential oils or vinegar. You may go for prescription drugs or over the counter medicines. Some women have used tea tree oil to eliminate bad odors. Tea tree oil is antifungal and antimicrobial so it can reduce bad bacteria, even get rid of some of them. You can use a few drops of the essential oil in water and apply the mix outside the vagina. Do not apply the mix inside the vagina. Do not keep using the mix if there is no improvement. Vinegar must also be applied outside and not inside. You should restrict use to a maximum of two cups of apple cider vinegar during a bath. Soak for around twenty minutes and you will notice some improvement.
How to Prevent Vaginal Odor in the Future
Probiotics can help prevent vaginal odor. These are good bacteria that can restore the pH and also keep the bad bacteria in check. Bacterial imbalance is after all about the proportion of good bacteria vis-à-vis bad bacteria. You may choose probiotics in the form of supplements or go for goods that are rich in good bacteria, such as yogurt, sauerkraut and kombucha.
A healthy diet can help prevent vaginal odor. Eat meals that have balanced nutrition. Include vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and whole grains in your diet, Drink sufficient water through the day. Aim for a gallon daily so you consume at least three fourth of it.
Do not scrub your vagina and do not go for douches unless your gynecologist has recommended it. Normal washing of the outside is all you must do. Douches are effective at getting rid of bad bacteria but they also eliminate good bacteria. You should wash your vagina during a shower as well as before and after sexual intercourse.
Do not wear extremely tight clothes or fancy lingerie that has unpleasant synthetics. Make sure your vagina gets enough oxygen and remains well ventilated. Do not let sweat accumulate in and around the vagina. Go for cotton panties.
Dr. Lorene Garcia is a Gynecologist (OB-GYN) based in Miami, Florida who has more than 10 years experience gynaecology. I’m a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and love to help women with gynecological problems.