Vaginal Odor: What Your Scent Can Reveal About Your Health

February 10, 2020.

Let’s just get this off our chest: every woman has a scent. And more likely than not, every woman has been concerned about her own scent at some point or another. Vaginal odor is one of those taboo topics in womanhood. But here’s the thing – your scent is a perfect tool for revealing your vaginal health. And we all know, when your vagina isn’t healthy, nothing feels healthy. When something smells off, something probably is off. Let’s dive into all things vaginal odor.

What causes vaginal odor?

The vagina is home to numerous different bacterial species. Your bacterial flora (do not read flowers – a healthy vagina does not smell like flowers) changes constantly. However, the type and amount of bacteria are kept in check by the natural pH of your vagina. The pH of a healthy vagina is between 3.8 – 4.5. Your vaginal bacteria determines your scent. There are many different scents associated with the vagina:

  • Fermented – Your vagina may smell slightly sour or tangy if there is a high presence of lactobacilli. This is a normal bacteria found not only in your vagina but also in fermented dairy products and some beers. Lactobacilli actually keep vaginal pH in check and therefore keeps the harmful bacteria out.
  • Sweet – Again, also due to bacteria and this is a normal scent.
  • Metallic – Blood is usually the cause of a metallic scent and it is perfectly normal as long as you have a hunch for what is causing bleeding. Sex and your period are common causes of bleeding.
  • B.O. – If your vagina smells skunky, or like body odor, it is probably due to the sweat glands around the vulva. You may notice this scent after a physically or emotionally stressful event. It can also be hormonal.
  • Fishy – Ah yes, the most common scent associated with vaginas. Some vaginas may have a normal underlying, slightly fishy smell which is due to bacteria. However, if the fishy vaginal odor becomes more pronounced, it may be the result of an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria (bacterial vaginosis) or the parasite, trichomoniasis (sexually transmitted infection). When anaerobic bacteria take over, it can be quite odorous and frequently sends women to see their gynecologists.
  • Rotten – If your scent is rotten or pungent, it may indicate there is something inside the vagina that is the source of the smell. It is quite common for women to forget about tampons. After a period of time, a foreign object such as a tampon can lead to a decaying scent.

Your scent can change throughout your cycle as you may experience slight fluctuations in pH that are normal with hormone changes. Similarly, your personal habits can influence your odor. For example:

  • Hygiene habits
  • Activities
  • Diet
  • Underwear
  • Stress

Penetrative sex can also change your odor. Semen has a relatively basic (high) pH compared to the vagina so you may notice a different smell in the hours and days following sex. Indeed, one of the primary roles of semen in fertilization is to neutralize the vaginal pH for sperm to successfully meet and greet your egg.

…here’s the thing – your scent is a perfect tool for revealing your vaginal health.

How to get rid of vaginal odor

If you have an abnormal vaginal odor, it is important to consult your doctor as it may be an infection. The following signs may indicate an infectious process that requires medical care:

  • Pain or painful sex
  • Thick, cottage cheese-like discharge
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period or sex

To get on top of your own unique scent, get familiar with what is normal for you. Then, you will be able to identify what is not normal and seek help when necessary.

Most women are uncomfortable talking about their own scent. At perry, our community platform gives women space to talk about the most taboo of topics and we are here to break down those walls. We bring in experts to answer your most burning questions without judgment and with all the support of women in your shoes. To learn more about vaginal odor remedies from experts and members alike, 

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Disclaimer: This is not medical advice, does not take the place of medical advice from your physician, and is not intended to treat or cure any disease. Patients should see a qualified medical provider for assessment and treatment.

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Julia Walker
perry expert Julia (RN, BSN, BA) is a registered nurse based in Colorado. Julia's nursing background in women’s health has ranged from neonatal and postpartum care to labor and delivery, to outpatient gynecological medicine for both adolescent and adult populations. She specializes in helping women optimize their health during perimenopause and beyond.

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