Yeah, we’ve seen those scented tampons ads too. And it seems to us like all that flowery sunshine is another example of the world getting vaginas all wrong.
Just take a quick trip to your local drugstore. You’ll find a wall full of products promising to mask the natural way your vagina smells. Like douching. Widely acknowledged by the medical community as harmful to the natural balance of vaginal flora, this common tool that cleans the vagina might actually cause bacterial vaginosis instead.
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.
Here is your guide to vaginal odors.
1. Tangy or fermented
It’s very common for vaginas to produce a tangy or sour aroma. Some compare it to the smell of fermented foods. In fact, yogurt, sourdough bread, and even some sour beer contain the same type of good bacteria that dominate most healthy vaginas: Lactobacilli.
The pH of a healthy vagina is slightly acidic, between 3.8 and 4.5. The Lactobacilli bacteria keep the vagina acidic. This protects against an overgrowth of the bad kinds of bacteria.
2. Coppery like a coin
Many people report smelling a coppery, metallic vaginal odor. This is usually nothing to worry about. Rarely, it signifies a more serious problem.
A coppery smell can also be due to less common, but serious, causes of vaginal bleeding. The metallic scent shouldn’t linger too long after your period is over. If your vagina has had contact with semen, this may change the pH level and cause a metallic smell. If you’re experiencing bleeding unrelated to your period or the metallic smell continues with itching and discharge, it’s best to see a doctor.
3. Fishy like odour
You’ve probably heard an abnormal vaginal odor described as fishy. In fact, fresh fish shouldn’t smell like much at all. Decomposing fish is the more apt comparison. Why? Trimethylamine, which is the chemical compound responsible for both the distinct aroma of rotting fish and some abnormal vaginal odors.
- Bacterial vaginosis. You get bacterial vaginosis when there’s an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina and these anaerobic organisms are odorous.
- Trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is the most common curable sexually transmitted infection and it is easily treatable with a course of antibiotics. It’s known for its pungent fishy odour.
4. Sweet or beer-like vaginal odor
An overgrowth of yeast in the vagina can produce a sweet smell, similar to that of honey or cookies. The vagina might also smell like beer, flour, or bread. It can also smell sour sometimes.
Intense burning, itching, or feelings of dryness usually accompany yeast infections. These symptoms tend to get worse over time. Some women may also notice a discharge that resembles cottage cheese. These conditions are treatable using over-the-counter medications. However, women who have not had a yeast infection before should seek consultation with a doctor to rule out other causes.
5. Rotten like a decaying organism
A rotten odor that makes your nose wince and your face contort is definitely not the norm. If the smell is putrid, like a dead organism, it may not be your vagina but something in your vagina. You might want to get screened for cervical cancer as well. Rotting fish, dead organisms, decay — these are all red flag odors, so get it checked as soon as possible.
Also read: Vaginal Lumps & Bumps
The vagina has a unique fragrance. Some women may feel self-conscious about the scent of their vagina, but it is normal for a healthy vagina to have a slight scent.
Don’t be afraid to really get to know your vagina, in all its fragrant glory. The better you understand the smells your vagina produces day to day, the more prepared you’ll be when something goes amiss. Negative feelings about vaginal odor can lead to difficulties with self-esteem and body image. If you are not sure, visit your doctor to get it checked!
Next read: Causes of Vaginal Itching and Treatment