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What does a healthy vagina smell like?

Every woman is different, and so there is no single example of normal. Some women may have discharge every day, and some will have it only during certain times of the month. Generally speaking, healthy vaginal discharge is clear, cloudy, or milky in color. Normal vaginal discharge has a mild, musky scent that is not unpleasant. This means that a very slight smell is normal. Any foul (bad) or strong smell, or a smell that is unusual, is a sign that things are out of balance, and that you should get yourself checked out.

The truth is, your vagina is home to billions of bacteria. And the precise makeup of this bacteria changes on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis. Change is normal. These smell variations are likely a result of your menstrual cycle, your hygiene habits, or just you being you.

Normal, Healthy Vaginal Odors

Here are some normal, not-to-worry odors you may encounter:

  • Tangy, fermented, or sour. These are perfectly healthy adjectives to describe the vaginal odor created by your normal bacterial flora. Good bacteria help keep your vagina healthy by producing lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other substances to keep harmful bacteria at bay. They help maintain your vaginal pH levels by keeping it on the acidic side – between 3.8 and 4.5 for non-menopausal women and between 4.5 and 6 for those in menopause – to ward off the overgrowth of yeast and other harmful bacteria.
  • Metallic, like a jar of pennies. A metallic vaginal odor could be due to blood from menstruation or light bleeding after sex traveling through your vaginal canal. Blood contains iron, which explains the smell of metal. It could also be from coming in contact with semen, which can affect your vagina’s pH balance.
  • Bittersweet or molasses-y. If your vaginal odor comes off smelling a little like tangy gingerbread, your normal bacteria may be in a bit of flux, affecting your pH balance and, therefore your aroma.
  • Bleachy, like a clean kitchen sink. A chemically vaginal odor could be attributed to a bit of urine in your underwear or 

Unhealthy Vaginal Odors

If you notice any of these vaginal odors, you may want to contact your gynecologist.

  • Fishy. If your vaginal odor is running foul, like the smell of dead fish, it may be a sign of a more serious condition:
    • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is one possibility. BV is a bacterial infection that occurs when your healthy lactobacilli get out of balance and grow too much. Symptoms include thin vaginal discharge that has a strong fishy smell and a little itching or burning when you urinate. BV is treated with an antibiotic.
    • Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection, is another possible explanation for a heavy fishy vaginal odor. Women with trichomoniasis may notice genital itching, burning, redness or soreness; urinary discomfort; and a clear, white, yellowish, or greenish vaginal discharge. Trichomoniasis is treatable with antibiotics.
  • Rotten, like bad meat. A forgotten tampon could be the cause of a putrid vaginal odor. (It happens more than you realize.) In addition to a very bad-smelling vaginal discharge that’s yellow, green, pink, gray, or brown, you may experience additional symptoms. These include fever, vaginal itching, pain urinating, pain around your pelvis or abdomen, redness around the genital area, and vaginal swelling. If you’re unable to easily retrieve the tampon and if you are experiencing these symptoms, call your doctor.

Credit: Moreland OB-GYN

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