Issue 12  •  Spring 2013

Why Do Vaginas Smell?

Written by Anna Salajegheh
Ohhhhh. This is such a complicated question. Let’s start by saying that every vagina has its own smell. It is a special mix of by-products of the bacteria that live in your vagina (yes, bacteria live in your vagina, and they belong there), your diet, your fashion choices, your hygiene, and finally, how your body functions.
Ohhhhh. This is such a complicated question. Let’s start by saying that every vagina has its own smell. It is a special mix of by-products of the bacteria that live in your vagina (yes, bacteria live in your vagina, and they belong there), your diet, your fashion choices, your hygiene, and finally, how your body functions. Furthermore, the smell may increase or decrease in intensity at different points of your cycle, and it may even change a little throughout. Being familiar with your own smell allows you to use it as a guide to know when things have gone wrong…but just because you have a strong odor does not mean that things have gone wrong. The vagina is supposed to smell to some degree.

Getting back to the bacteria…The main bacteria that sets up house in the vagina is the lactobacillus. This  little critter is our friend, and your vagina needs it to stay happy and healthy. Basically, your vagina cells make a sugary treat called glycogen that the lactobacilli gobble up. Sounds a little gross, we know. But in return for the grub, the lactobacilli guard your vagina from all sorts of invaders. They create an acidic pH that eliminates any unwanted invaders, like other bacteria that cause infections.

In the realm of vaginal health, as in every aspect of your body, diet affects how your body functions. Your diet also helps determine the way you smell and the way things that come out of your body smell, look, and taste. Diets high in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol have been linked to increased vaginal sweating. These three wonderful things can potentially make your vagina more stinky. On the other hand, eating a balanced and healthy diet almost guarantees a less sweaty and smelly vagina. Increasing the smell, or doubling up on unscented, certain foods may cause changes in the very notes found in your scent.

Some people are naturally sweatier than others, hairier than others, and greater producers of scents than others. If you find yourself checking off any (or all) of these boxes, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. These are just variations on a theme, like hair color, eye color, skin type, personality, etc. You’re pretty much stuck with what you’re dealt.

But there are things you can do to take some control. If you are wearing synthetic underwear, stop. If you are wearing thongs, cut down. If you are wearing cotton panties, and you’re still having a problem with excessive odor and/or sweating, try not wearing any underwear at all to bed. Allow your vagina to breathe at night.

For those of us that are particularly sweaty, showering twice a day has been known to help. Cornstarch, if you rub it into the crotch (kind of the same way you use foot powder), can also help keep things dry. But this is only if you must. In general, it’s probably not the best idea for people to put anything on their crotches (not counting the obvious). Please do NOT use talc down there—it has been linked to ovarian cancer. And definitely NO douching! It can do bad things like disturb the pH and the bacterial flora of your vagina.

All that being said, there are several times when it is important to see a doctor about your vaginal smells:

•Fishy odor: especially if accompanied by a white grayish milky discharge, this could indicate bacterial vaginosis. If it comes with a yellowy green discharge, it could be trichomoniasis. These are diseases of the vagina that somewhat mimic yeast infections, but are caused by other non-yeast organisms. Go to your doctor for special antibiotics that will get rid of each one.

•Yeasty odor: you know, a bit like the smell of baking bread, this smell might be a sign of a yeast infection, especially with an itchiness and curd-like discharge. A yeast infection is an overgrowth of yeast in part of the body. If you’ve never had one before, it’s best to see your doctor before you rush to the pharmacy for some Monistat. First of all, you want to be sure it is truly yeast that is the offender. Second, your doc may be able to give you a pill that gets rid of the infection without all those messy creams.

As a rule, any discharge that’s out of the ordinary is worthy of a trip to the doctor. Finally, if you’re self-conscious about the way your vagina smells (after establishing that your hygiene is normal and you are healthy), then our advice is: Get over it! Not to get all lovey-dovey on you, but the smell of your vagina is another one of those aspects of you that makes you special. It is your smell. Own it!

For more information, check out:
www.vaginapagina.com; www.youthembassy.com
 
 
Illustration by Molly Schulman 

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