OK, I’m going to confess something that might make me sound like a total weirdo. (Don’t worry: I’m used to that sort of thing.)
Here goes: I’ve tracked the vaginal discharge across my menstrual cycle since I was a teen. Yep, at 13 years old, I was gifted a book called What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls (anyone remember that gem?) which referenced the whole vaginal discharge phenomenon, and what it all meant. I did my own ongoing research via my mom’s worn copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves, and I instantly became hooked.
The changes that I saw happening like clockwork each month were fascinating, exciting—and dare I say it—beautiful to me. By tracking my vaginal secretions, I always knew what was going on with my cycle, my sexuality, and the inner workings of my reproductive system. I learned so much, and felt awesomely empowered as a blossoming young woman.
But maybe most importantly, I learned that all that stuff leaking out of me every month wasn’t gross in the least. It was natural, clean, and meant that I was a healthy, fertile, functioning badass female.
When I got older, I “graduated” to a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility, which is like the bible of fertility awareness. The book includes more details about how to understand and monitor your vaginal discharge (and other fertility signs) to help avoid pregnancy, get pregnant, or identify any reproductive issues you might be having.
Honestly, any woman who hasn’t gotten acquainted with her vaginal discharge—and the many intriguing mysteries it can unlock—is seriously missing out, in my humble opinion.
Ready for a quick tutorial on the matter? I know you are.
The first thing you need to know is that having vaginal discharge—and sometimes quite a bit of it—is normal, healthy, and not a problem (unless it’s abnormal, and more on that in a bit). You definitely don’t need to douche or clean it up in any way.
If it becomes plentiful and a nuisance, taking an extra shower or changing your undies for comfort is fine, but your vagina is “self cleaning” and not dirty. It’s just a part of the gorgeous goddess you are.
“The vagina naturally cleans itself,” explains Kecia Gaither, MD, in an interview with Reader’s Digest. “Discharge is basically cells from the vagina and water.”
Here’s how your discharge generally changes throughout the menstrual cycle–and remember that the timing and quality of the discharge varies for every woman.
After your period, you’ll probably have a week or so of light, not very distinctive, discharge. And then, somewhere in the middle of your cycle, your discharge will become more copious—and eventually, slippery, and stretchy. This is your fertile mucous, and should last a few days.
You’ll probably be able to stretch this discharge, which has the consistency of egg-whites, between your fingers. It’s sometimes aptly referred to as “egg-white cervical mucous” or the more technical term for it: “spinnbarkeit.”
When you have this stuff, you’ll probably also be horny AF (and possibly bloated and nauseous, but maybe that’s just me!).
“This is nature’s way of letting you know that this is a great time to get busy if you want to get pregnant, and a great time to protect yourself if you don’t,” Alyssa Dweck, MD, tells Good Housekeeping.
After you ovulate, your discharge will dissipate considerably. It will likely become thick and creamy for the next two weeks, as your body readies itself for menstruation (or pregnancy, if that happened). Mine has a pretty distinct smell then, too. Yup, I pay that close attention to the stuff.
Right before your period, you might notice slightly less mucus as your hormones shift and your body gets ready to shed its menstrual lining. It’s normal for there to be less vaginal secretions as you approach menopause as well, since hormone shifts dictate the quality and quantity of discharge.
Besides enlightening you as to the wonders of what’s happening during your cycle, tracking your vaginal secretions can alert you to any problems you might be having. Once you know what’s normal for you, you can spot any inconsistencies and have them addressed with a medical professional, if necessary.
For example, as Dweck explains to Good Housekeeping, if your discharge becomes lumpy and white, and you have any burning or itching symptoms, it might mean that you have a yeast infection. Yellow or greenish discharge could mean an STD like trichomoniasis or gonorrhea. And if it’s greenish, grayish, frothy, or smells like fish (ewww, sorry), it could mean bacterial vaginosis — an uncomfortable, condition treatable with antibiotics.
It’s all about learning what is normal for you and your body—getting intimate with your fertility, your cycle, and being able to recognize any problems that might arise so that you can take charge of your body and your life.
So what are you waiting for? Once a week (or more: go all out if you like), slip off your undies, and take a look at what’s going on down there (and inside too!). You will be amazed at what your body does each month.
I swear: once you get in there, and become familiar with all your “stuff,” you will get as obsessed as I am. And then we can be weirdos together.