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What’s “Normal” For My Vagina? What Should I Do If My Vagina Smells?

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Understanding what affects our bodies and how is a big part of learning about sexual health! Understanding basic anatomy like the vagina and listening to your body can go a long way towards feeling good and staying healthy.

The vagina can seem complicated. Sometimes it’s hard to find reliable information about vaginal health. There are lots of myths and misunderstandings about vaginal hygiene, infections, and so on!

What is vaginal health?

This is simply the overall health of your vagina. The vagina is a complex organ with a lot of different parts! Your vaginal health can affect your reproductive and sexual health. Things like bacterial infections, STIs, and conditions which may cause pain can have an impact on your health down there too.

What affects vaginal health?

Everyone wants to stay healthy, but not everyone knows what can affect their vaginal health. Here are some things that can affect the health of your vagina and vulva:

  • Sex: Vaginal sex is one way that people can get infections, especially if they don’t use protection. These infections are called Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections, or STIs. There are lots of different STIs, and many different ways to give or get them. Barrier methods of birth control – like condoms – can prevent them. So can talking to your partner about safer sex, and knowing your own STI status.
  • Douching: Douches and other similar hygiene products are sold as a way to help clean your vagina, but they can actually hurt it. The vagina can clean itself! Cleaning products can irritate the vagina and hurt the healthy bacteria inside it. This can make it easier to get an STI or a bacterial infection.
  • Mental health: Your brain and your body are part of the same system, and can affect each other! This is especially true in terms of sexual health. Common issues like anxiety or depression can make it difficult to get aroused, which can lead to pain during sex.
  • Quick changes in diet, exercise, or overall physical health. Your body works as one big system. It’s made up of different parts that serve different purposes, but all work together. If something has a big impact on one area of your health, other areas might be affected, too. Some people notice that certain diets make them more prone to things like yeast infections. Being dehydrated can mean your vagina doesn’t lubricate itself as much. Certain medications can also impact your vaginal health. It can help to look at your health as part of the bigger picture of your overall well-being.

What if my vagina smells?

Each vagina is unique and has its own particular scent. Like penises and many other body parts, vaginas just have a particular smell to them, and there’s nothing wrong with that. These smells are usually mild. Many people can find these scents attractive, the same way they might find a partner’s natural body odor attractive!

Different things can affect vaginal odor. People who have periods may notice that the smell down there changes or gets stronger at certain points in their cycle. Some people find that certain types of sex can have a change the way their vagina smells for a short time. All of this is normal. Your body makes any number of natural smells for any number of reasons. Exercise, stress, the food you eat, the soaps you use when you bathe – all of this affects how you smell. It makes sense that your vagina is no different than the rest of your body this way!

If the smells change suddenly and become noticeable stronger or unpleasant, it could be a sign of infection. If you notice this, try to take note of what your discharge is like. Discharge is the fluid that comes out of your vagina. All vaginas produce discharge, although some people produce more than others. Usually, discharge is a clear or milky looking fluid with a mucous-like consistency. If your discharge is thick, chunky, and/or an unusual color, it might be good to talk to a doctor about it. Most vaginal infections can be easily and safely treated and don’t have long-term concerns.

How can I get rid of vaginal smells?

Lots of people feel self-conscious about the way their vagina smells. You may worry that people around you can smell it, or that it will turn off a potential sexual partner. However, most people don’t notice vaginal odor in non-sexual situations. Lots of people find it a turn-on in sexual situations! If you’re very worried about your smell, here are some healthy ways you can help your vagina balance itself out and potentially smell less strong.

If you’re very worried about your smell, though, these things may help you feel less self-conscious.

  • You can wash the outside with mild, unscented soap once in a while.
  • You can wear breathable cotton underwear and something loose and breathable to sleep.

Like we mentioned above, vaginas are self-cleaning. Douching is not recommended for cleaning, and can be harmful to your vagina! Douching with chemicals – or anything other than warm water – can be especially harmful. Any douching can also make smells like these stronger.

More info:

  • Betty Dodson’s Vulva Illustrations

    Scarleteen hosts sex educator Betty Dodson’s illustrations of different vulva (what’s outside the vagina)! A great resource for anyone wondering if their vulva is normal, or how different they can look.

  • Female Anatomy: Vulva, Vagina and Breasts

    Basic break down of the female anatomy.  Explains the differences between the vagina and the vulva.

  • Genital odor – Go Ask Alice

    Go Ask Alice answers questions from people who are concerned about the smell of their vaginas and vaginal discharge, explaining what is normal, what may be a sign of an infection, as well as what they can do to safely reduce the smell and what they should avoid.

  • Altering the Taste of Oral Sex – About.com

    This article talks about different ways to change the taste of oral sex on a penis, anus, or vulva (what’s outside a vagina. This includes flavored condoms, dental dams, and lube and adding food. As many of these risk yeast infections, it also explains how to do this safely.

  • Discharge and vaginal secretions

    This page is Scarleteen’s guide to vaginal discharge. While perfectly normal, discharge can be unpredictable and change which can make it hard to tell if there’s a reason to worry. Find out more at this link!

  • Vaginal Discharge vs being wet

    Go Ask Alice answers a questions about vaginal discharge and “being wet”.
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  • Bleeding in between periods – NHS Choice

    A list of possible reasons for irregular vaginal bleeding.

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