Where Does Vaginal Odour Come From & What Should You Do About It?

Photographed by Ashley Armitage.
Most of us have been conditioned to believe that any odour that comes from the lower half of the body is humiliating — and that includes farts, feet, and vaginas. But the thing is, if you're someone who has a vagina, then you're also going to have a somewhat of a vaginal odour because that's just how the human body works.
There's truly nothing embarrassing about having vaginal odour, but the countless products marketed for getting rid of vaginal odour have amplified this concern. So, what's the deal? What sort of vaginal odour is normal, and what do you do if your vaginal odour is abnormal? Ahead, we've answered some of those burning vaginal odour questions. Oh, and while we're on the topic of bodily odours: farts are supposed to smell, too.

What causes vaginal odour?

Vaginal odour is simply any smell that comes from the vagina, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often, vaginal odour comes from vaginal discharge, which is clear mucus secreted by the cervix and vaginal opening, mixed with cells, bacteria, and bodily fluid.

Is vaginal odour normal?

Yes, in the sense that every vagina has an odour. "There is a spectrum of normal vaginal odour that people can experience," says Linda Fan, MD, FACOG, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine told Refinery29. Certain things, like your period or your workout routine, can temporarily alter the odour of your vagina, though that's usually nothing to be concerned about. It's a good idea to know what your vagina smells like on a "normal" day, because a change in vaginal odour can signal that you have a vaginal infection.

What causes foul-smelling discharge?

If you have a vaginal infection, such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis, then extra bacteria in the vagina can cause smelly discharge, according to MedlinePlus. Different scents mean different things, but a fishlike odour is a common scent to be on the lookout for, because it can signal bacterial vaginosis or the sexually transmitted infection trichomoniasis. Often your discharge will change colour when you have an infection, so it may appear greyish or yellow, too. And in some cases, if you notice a foul or dead odour as well as an unusual amount of blood, that could mean that you have a tampon stuck inside of you.

How do you get rid of vaginal odour?

Depending on the type of odour, it might be a good idea to see your Ob/Gyn or healthcare provider to rule out any possible infections. If you have a vaginal infection, your doctor will typically prescribe an oral antibiotic or suppository medication to get rid of it. Once the infection is treated, the odour usually goes away along with accompanying symptoms like itchiness.
Although it might be tempting to try a product (like a vaginal wash or wipe) that claims it'll "get rid of vaginal odour," steer clear. "The vagina is not the dirty horrible place that a lot of the [vaginal wash] advertisers might want you to think it is," Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist in New York and author of The Complete A To Z For Your V told Refinery29. And sometimes, scented vaginal washes can mess with your vagina's delicate balance of pH and bacteria, leading to more infections and odour.

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