What’s Normal And What’s Not When It Comes To Vaginal Odor

Vaginal Odor: What’s Normal And What’s Not

July 24, 2020 Updated July 27, 2020

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We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Your vagina is not supposed to smell like a Tootsie pop. I mean, we all love a good sweet scent. And who doesn’t want to breathe in fresh flowers all day? But the truth is, things are supposed to smell the way they are supposed to smell, or it makes us suspicious. Am I right?

If your man walks in the house after working in construction all day and smells like Chanel No. 5 instead of sawdust and sweat, you are going to feel strange about that and have questions.

If you open a bag of Doritos and get a whiff of lavender, are you really going to down the bag like you’d planned? Probably not.

Do you eat meat even if the expiration date hasn’t passed but the rotting smell knocks you over as soon as you open the package? I hope to hell you wouldn’t.

My point is, people born with a vulva have thought their vagina should smell different than it does. We’ve been sent the message to cleanse and douche with scented elixirs. There are powder-scented tampons and pads. Some have even done things like insert veggies in their precious openings to freshen and cleanse. 

Can we stop now and realize that the vagina is a precious part of our body that needs to be taken care of, not covered up to smell like rainbow sherbet? Please.

That being said, this doesn’t mean some odors aren’t concerning. It’s important to know the facts when it comes to vaginal health and odor so things can be taken care of the right way. No, that doesn’t include Febreezing your furburger if you get a musty whiff. It does mean when you see or smell something fishy (see what I did there?), you need to recognize it and get proper help.

Scary Mommy spoke with some experts via email on the subject of vaginal odor, and this is what they had to say:

Dr. Jessica Shepard is the OB/GYN for Happy V, and she says, “The vagina is very unique to each woman and it’s important to pay attention to its smell, color, and consistency for signs of anything abnormal.”

That means you have to check out your vulva on a regular basis. Don’t be afraid. Get down there and look under the hood. Use a mirror if that helps. We need to pay attention to this part of our body just like we do to the health of our teeth, skin, and hair. 

It doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or take more than a few seconds. If something is off, you will notice immediately — so being body-aware is the best key to keep your vagina at its healthiest.

In fact, the more you explore, the easier it is and the more you learn how you operate and work. Remember, no two vaginas are alike. 

Dr. Shepard says white-to-clear discharge is a normal part of your menstrual cycle, so don’t fret if you see this in your undergarments. However, Dr. Shepard goes on to say “If you start to experience abnormalities in color, consistency, the amount of discharge or notice any discomfort like itching, it’s important to consult with a trusted health care provider.”

Less is more when it comes to a healthy vagina. Dr. Shepard advises staying away from perfumed soaps and body washes because they “strip the vagina of good bacteria and can irritate and even aggravate an odor problem.”

In order to keep your pH balanced and your good bacteria thriving, Dr. Shepard says to use products that are free of glycerin and parabens and avoid wearing tight, restrictive underwear and clothing as they can “trap moisture and sweat around the vagina and potentially increase vaginal odor.”

Mary Jane Minkin, MD, OBGYN with Yale University, tells us red flags that may require a call or visit to your gynecologist are “Pain, burning, itching, foul smell, and pain while having intercourse.” 

Dr. Minkin says the best thing you can do to keep your vagina healthy is to use a condom every time you are having intercourse unless you are in a mutually monogamous relationship. She also adds “Doing crazy things like bleaching your vagina, or putting strange things up there can cause harm, so always check with your healthcare provider first.” A good rule of thumb: If it sounds strange, it probably is and you should take the chance and make the call — better safe than sorry.

A “fishy, or dead fishy odor can be a sign you have bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis,” says Minkin. This is when you should give your gynecologist a call.

But if your symptoms are less severe and your vagina just seems a bit off, don’t ignore that either. A quick thing you can do is get an over-the-counter pH-balancing gel (such as RepHresh), recommends Dr. Minkin. “Doing this may help you prevent a significant infection.”

So, if you have a vagina, remember: It’s not supposed to smell like a bushel of peaches. But it isn’t supposed to smell like fish, either. And the best way to stay educated on what your vagina is supposed to smell like is to pay attention — so if you do get an infection, or something doesn’t feel or smell quite right, you will know right away.