It's normal to feel insecure about the way your body smells — and judging by the amount of vaginal cleaning products on the market, vaginas, in particular, seem to be a major source of that insecurity. But the thing is, unless a medical condition is changing the way your genitals smell, there's no reason not to embrace the scent of your vagina. Not only is it natural, but it's probably a turn on for your partner.
According to Amanda Luterman, a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality, there's "no question" that vaginal odors can be arousing. "It’s not supposed to smell like skin, an arm, or an elbow," she says. "It’s supposed to smell like the inside of a person’s otherwise unseen — that’s the intimacy of it." And many people are turned on by sniffing genitals precisely because the scent is 100% natural, so it can bring up primal, animalistic urges, says Galen Fous, a kink-positive sex therapist and fetish sex educator.
Anecdotally, many people report being extremely turned on by the smell. "I couldn’t understand how she smelled so amazing," one 30-year-old man told Cosmopolitan last year, describing the first time he smelled a vagina. "She smelled like a butterscotch river cutting through a field of wildflowers, along with the soft powdery muskiness that was the scent of her skin." That said, experts agree that it's hard to say exactly why the smell is appealing.
"As far as I know, there is no science behind it, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true; it just means people aren’t doing that kind of research," says Raquel Dardik, MD, an associate professor of gynecology at NYU Langone.
While there may be no direct research on vaginal scent and arousal, there's a chance smell could actually affect attraction. Research suggests that we may become unconsciously attracted to someone because of the medley of chemicals emitted from their body. And in 2001, researchers at the University of Texas at Austin who were studying pheromones found that men preferred the smell of women's shirts when they had been worn by a woman during the fertile period of her menstrual cycle. They called the scent "sexy" and "pleasant." But again, this study didn't directly measure vaginal odor and arousal (and the setup was pretty heteronormative), so make of that what you will.
It’s not supposed to smell like skin, an arm, or an elbow. It’s supposed to smell like the inside of a person’s otherwise unseen — that’s the intimacy of it.
Another reason people may be into the scent is that there's taboo involved: Society has taught us that bodily smells — and, particularly, vaginal smells — are bad, so there may be excitement attached to getting up close and personal with a vagina. "Embedded into our cultural upbringing is this aversion to anything but a soft smelling body, which isn’t natural at all," Fous says. "I think there’s a yearning to drop back into the primal." As Luterman put it: "'My face is not supposed to be here,' that’s the turn on."
And while, in an ideal world, everyone would be confident in the smell of their genitalia for the sake of self-love, it's also important to get acquainted and comfortable with the smell of your vagina so that you'll know when it suddenly changes, which could indicate that there's an underlying medical issue, Dr. Dardik says. Your scent subtly fluctuates throughout your menstrual cycle, but she says that common reasons for distinct changes in vaginal smell include bacterial vaginosis (an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina), yeast infections, and trichomoniasis. So see your doctor if you notice a change in the way your vagina smells. While infections like these are easily treatable, they usually don't just go away without the help of antibiotics, Dr. Dardik says.
And perhaps most importantly: Do not try to "fix" the natural scent of your vagina. "The vagina is self-cleaning," Dr. Dardik says, adding that you should never use a douche, since it could disturb the pH balance of your vagina and lead to an infection. "You can’t have an odor-free vagina; it just doesn’t happen." The warm water from your bath or shower is enough to clean your genitals, she says.
Moral of the story? The smell of your vagina is not just normal and healthy; it's also super hot. So take a whiff and enjoy the smell of your vagina, and appreciate the fact that your sexual partners are likely really into it, too.