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Does My Vagina Smell Normal?

And how to tell if something’s off.
vagina odor: three sliced oranges in a row
PHOTO: UNSPLASH/Charles Deluvio

Despite what you've been taught to believe, your vagina isn't supposed to smell like a meadow or fresh flowers. Having it smell far from either of these things is completely normal. And you may not always pay attention to how your vagina smells, but if you've noticed that something changed or shifted, it might be worth having your doctor check out. 

Vagina odor: Why does the vagina smell?

Every vagina has a natural scent—it's different for every person. When you're not on your period, a vagina's scent can be described as "musky" or "fleshy." During your menstrual cycle, however, it can smell like iron or metal. And sometimes, it can even change scents when you just had sex. 

vagina odor: what does it mean?
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There may be a problem, though, if you smell a strong, unfamiliar odor. Another sign of trouble is if the color of discharge drastically changes. Itching and other forms of irritation may also mean it's time to book an appointment. 

Vagina odor: What different smells could mean

So what happened? Here are possible reasons your vagina's odor changed. 

  1. It's that time of the month. As previously mentioned, when you have your period, your vagina can smell different because of blood. It's natural for the vagina to smell more...intense during menstruation. When your menstrual cycle is over, and nothing else is wrong, that strong odor should go away. 
  2. You just had sex. Yes, sex can affect the way your vagina smells, which makes sense because so many bodily fluids get mixed together during intercourse—including sweat. This is especially true if you and your partner don't use a condom. Your vagina might smell bleachy if you use a condom or lube. A nice, long shower should get rid of that scent. 
  3. Did you just work out? Like intercourse, exercise makes you sweat. But now, your workout clothes trap the sweat in, thanks to their specific fabric. This means that sometimes, certain areas can smell muskier than usual. Again, a shower can fix that. 
  4. Your underwear is the wrong size. Tight underwear can trap heat and moisture, which affects the balance of bacteria in your vagina. 
  5. You have an infection. If you smell something fishy, there's a good chance you have bacterial vaginosis. This is an infection that occurs when the natural balance of the healthy and unhealthy bacteria in your vagina is thrown off by too much bad bacteria. It could also be trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection (STI), caused by a parasite. Other symptoms include discharge in a different color (yellow, green, white, or gray), redness, itching, and burning. 
  6. Or it might be pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). According to the Mayo Clinic, PID occurs when sexually transmitted bacteria is left untreated and then spreads from the vagina to your reproductive organs (uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries). The symptoms can be mild, but the most common one is foul-smelling discharge. Some women experience pelvic pain, too. 
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Vagina odor: What you can do about it

If you're really worried about the change in your vagina's odor, you can always go to the doctor to get some answers. But here are tips on what you can do that might help bring back the natural scent of your vagina. 

  • Good hygiene is important. We hope that most of you already do this, but bathing daily and washing the area around your vagina is important. We're not even talking about anything fancy. Using gentle soap and clean water should be enough. You may want to avoid using a loofah because it might cause small tears, which might lead to an infection. The vagina is self-cleaning, so keep this routine as simple as possible, 
  • Change your underwear regularly. Most people say that cotton undies are the best because the material is more "breathable" than most. But it's more important to consider if your underwear fits correctly. Like we said, if it's too tight, it traps heat and moisture which can change the way your vagina smells. Excess moisture can also lead to infections, sadly. 
  • Monitor what you eat. Maintaining a healthy diet does wonders for your body, which includes your vagina. Make sure you're drinking enough water because it benefits more than just your skin; drinking plenty of water encourages fluid release, too, which contributes to your vagina's health
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If the unusual vagina odor isn't gone in a week after following these tips, make sure you consult your doctor.