Does this remind you of your typical day:
You went to bed late, so you slept in before work and didn’t have time to shower or eat.
You hurriedly get dressed, rush out the door to the nearest coffee shop, and grab an herb and garlic bagel, and a latte.
You then slog through a long, stressful 8 hours at work – punctuated by an attempt to get in a good workout over lunch because your cheat night turned into a cheat week.
You finish off your day with some “quality snuggle time” with your partner, possibly before showering – don’t judge, we’ve all done it – add in a messy bun and voila, it’s a wrap for the day!
After all that, you finally sit down to pee after what seems like an eternity of a mere 16 hours and you notice a funk coming from your lady garden. Your nose is not happy and apparently, neither is your downstairs.
Your inner-monologue instantly spirals into negative thoughts and self-doubt…
“What the hell? Why does my pussy stink? Did he smell it during our sexy time? Did he want to say something? Thank god he didn’t. Can others smell it? Did I catch an STI? Is it a yeast infection? Should I go to my doctor? What do I do now?…”
I’m here to tell you that some odors are NORMAL.
Yeah, you read that right.
Vaginal odor happens. Whether from sweat, an imbalanced pH, you’ve just finished your period, or perhaps a round of antibiotics, we all experience it from time to time.
And I hate to burst your bubble, but nobody smells like a bushel of fruit and flowers down there all the time anyway.
So let’s all be brave, take a big whiff and explore this potentially embarrassing issue together.
Why Do I Have A Smelly Vagina, and What Are Some Remedies and Treatments?
If you think it’s something you’re doing or not doing, I have good and bad news for you.
Consider this the in-depth health class that doesn’t make you giggle (out loud), or fall asleep.
So let’s get to it, and start with the simplest issues that cause odor first that are easiest to fix, and then work our way to the ones that are a little more intimidating.
First, A Bit About Nature
Flashback to 10th-grade biology for just a bit here.
Your vagina is…get ready for it…a microbiome filled with its very own fingerprint of bacteria that is all thanks to you. Look at your coochie go!
It’s like a snowflake but can withstand a little more! Your favorite playground is filled with a very specific vaginal flora. This typically includes one or two forms of very dominant lactobacillus.
If you are thinking about yogurt right now, you are on the right track.
You might also be thinking: “That’s for gut health”, but it helps your vaginal health, too!
What these tiny critters do is simple: they make your vagina acidic enough so that other bacteria, yeast, or viruses cannot thrive.
High five to Activia yogurt, friends! Our grandmothers were onto something by saying eat more yogurt!
Now let’s go into what factors can affect your pH and microbiome, and can cause it to behave badly.
The first and simplest reason you might have unwanted vaginal odor happens to everyone on the planet, and it’s the easiest explanation for why your vagina might not be so fresh.
If you work out, enjoy the sunshine, or are a human being, you are bound to notice this one.
This smell is almost musky but varies with diet. If you eat a lot of garlic or onions it could be a little more pungent.
The pubic region is much like our armpits –It is full of hair follicles and sweat glands. Add in some bacteria and you’ve potentially got your own brew of fruit punch down there.
Can pubic hair cause my vagina to smell bad?
This is a topic on its own, so I will just quickly throw it in.
You have pubic hair that acts as a filter to keep dirt and debris away from your delicate bits but allows air to flow through at the same time.
Too much of anything isn’t always beneficial.
Having too much hair will cause more bacteria to grow due to the trapped heat. Too little and you may notice that your yoga pants always have a lingering stench in the crotch.
Try a light trim, or give yourself a landing strip. If you are feeling adventurous, try getting artsy. Not sure what to do? You’re not alone! Read about 10 women that share what they prefer and why.
Other do’s and don’ts for sweat:
- Whatever you do, DO NOT use deodorant on your vag. Your vaginal opening is so sensitive that even the most delicate soaps or deodorants can act like a bull in a china shop.
- DO try natural home remedies, such as black or green tea soaked cotton balls to wipe your groin area or around the pubic region.
Some other remedies for sweat induced vaginal odors:
- You can opt for a sensitive, pH balanced soap (I love the Diva Wash. Check it out by clicking here). Or you can also use a talc-free sweat defense like this one, from Anthony Logistics.
Anthony Logistics also gets bonus points for preventing thigh chafing and allowing us to wear those cute shorts and dresses comfortably all summer.
Oh, and if you haven’t heard yet, talcum powder on the genital area can be “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, so I would recommend staying away from it.
- You can also try wearing all cotton underwear, loose-fitting clothes, or use unscented feminine hygiene wipes that are pH balanced when a shower isn’t an option to help cut back on the sweat.
- If the odor still persists or you feel that you sweat more than normal, you may have a condition called hyperhidrosis, which is just a fancy term for overactive sweat glands. You can read more about it by clicking here.
We all do it.
Birds, bees, fish, your parents did it a few times too.
I am not going to sit here and say don’t have sex. Sex is amazing with the right partner but can become unpleasant when something upsets pandora’s box.
A lot of women ask their doctors why they smell like bleach after sex.
You read that right.
Sometimes you can smell like a cleaner – which I guess isn’t as upsetting as a metallic or fishy odor but can be just as alarming.
When your partner finishes (or cums) inside of you, it throws everything out of whack and changes the acidity so the semen can survive.
Say you have sex with your partner a few times a week and he ejaculates inside you every time.
Your poor missus business becomes unhappy and a bad smell can occur due to your lactobacillus dying off.
Add in the fact that you both have sweat glands and bacteria down there, and you’ve potentially got the smell of sex to contend with!
There are other things, besides semen, that can also contribute to a vaginal smell after sex:
- Sex with lubricants, especially anything flavored
- Sex with toys!
It’s a win/lose situation, but rest assured, it is an easy fix. Here is a list of the best silicone lubes that won’t upset your bikini biscuit!
Vaginal pH Imbalances
A pH imbalance in any part of your body can wreak havoc.
Imagine your lips being chapped and dry after a long day of no water. They hurt, they are uncomfortable and you’ll be tempted to mask the problem with some lip balm but what you really need is hydration.
Your vagina is the exact same skin as the inside of your cheek with the exact same sensitivity, just a little bumpy.
If you are dehydrated, eating improperly, having unprotected sex, wearing the wrong absorbency of a tampon or even wearing underwear that doesn’t let your lady bits breathe (think lace, Lycra, spandex, etc), you are bound to upset your delicate pH down there.
Also, your pH varies from day to day.
As you may remember, the scale runs from 0 to 14 and is a measurement of how acidic or alkaline (also known as basic) you are.
Let’s look at a simple image to help illustrate the point:
So a pH of 7 or less is acidic, 7 and above is alkaline.
Are we still on the same page? OK, good, let’s get back to the taco talk.
Your pH level will typically be between 3.8 and 4.5 but will vary depending on menstruation and menopause.
Typically, before your period and after menopause, your pH will be higher than 4.5, but during our peak years for reproduction (ages 15-49) it should never be higher than 4.5. Having a higher pH puts you at risk for certain infections that can cause unwanted odors.
This brings me to reason number four as to why you might have a smell, feel itchy, have a slight burn while peeing, or produce a discharge.
No, it’s not a yeast infection (more on that in a minute), it’s something called Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).
Did I just try to cast some sort of spell from a Harry Potter book? Nope, I sure didn’t.
This is a real issue that not too many women realize can happen, or if it’s actually affecting them right now.
It sounds scary, sure, but it’s simply a bacterial overgrowth due to an imbalanced pH – remember that from the previous section? If not, go back and read it.
What this means is that there are more bad bacteria called anaerobes vs. the good bacteria, lactobacilli.
Think of it as a tiny little civil war up in your hoo-ha, and team anaerobes are trying their hardest to overthrow the Queen of the castle and set up little BV tents, which can cause an unpleasant, almost fishy odor.
All team lactobacilli needs is a little backup.
BV is more common in women having unprotected sex, those that have finished a course of antibiotics, just finished their period, or women that douche. Women who are pregnant are also more susceptible to BV. If you are pregnant and suspect you have BV, please see your OB-GYN as soon as possible.
But please don’t freak out.
If you aren’t pregnant, BV isn’t actually harmful, but more uncomfortable.
It can, however, leave you more susceptible to things like Human Papillomavirus (HPV), the herpes simplex virus and HIV, so it’s a good idea to seek treatment as soon as possible and abstain from unprotected sex.
Bacterial Vaginosis is very curable and has no lasting symptoms.
In fact, lots of treatments and research are being done to help us nip this in the bud more quickly and effectively and prevent it from happening at all by utilizing the right kinds of helpful bacteria already found within our bodies.
You can pick up over the counter test strips that help you screen for Bacterial Vaginosis and assist in seeking the right treatment. If you are too embarrassed to go in and get some test strips you can order online through Amazon.
Please note, I am no doctor (obviously – but this article WAS reviewed by one!) and in my personal opinion, I would still seek out medical attention if this is your first time dealing with any of the symptoms listed above.
Ok ladies, this one could be gross, but bear with me.
You may have felt that itch, a discomfort that makes you wiggle in your seat, or had discharge that looks like cottage cheese, and how can we forget that yeasty smell – all of which are the hallmarks of a yeast infection.
It is estimated that 75% of women will experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, and roughly 40% of women will have recurring infections.
Yeast infections can happen at any time, and not just to women that have reached sexual maturity – yeast infections can happen to kids too.
A very specific kind of yeast called Candida Albicans is what predominantly causes a yeast infection, but there are several other strains that can cause the same issues. They typically require a stronger clotrimazole cream or even antibiotics.
Yeast infections can show up in several different ways: orally, like a skin rash, and of course vaginally.
Symptoms of a yeast infection can include:
- Burning, swelling or cracking inside and outside of the vagina
- Itching that is beyond anything you’ve ever experienced
- Pain or burning when you pee
- A thick, white, odorless discharge that looks like cottage cheese
- A yeasty smell like bread
It may not be possible for all women to prevent or lower their odds of getting yeast infections.
That being said, here are some things you can try to prevent or treat a yeast infection that might also cause bad vaginal odor:
- Diet and exercise: Having an imbalanced diet – especially one high in sugar – can cause more harm than good. You can help prevent a yeast infection from ever happening in the first place by keeping a balanced diet low in sugar, combined with an active lifestyle.
- Clothing choices: Opt for all cotton underwear instead of lace, opt for looser fitting clothing, and remember to dry yourself appropriately after any activities like swimming.
- Post Care: Over the counter medication is readily available such as Canesten, which is a clotrimazole treatment that kills off the fungal cells.
Word to the wise: A yeast infection can be transmitted from person to person, and men can get them too. Try to avoid any sexual activity until your symptoms clear up. You can read about a penile yeast infection here.
Reason number six for experiencing strong vaginal odors can be a little more sinister.
Have you ever heard of a retained tampon?
We have all had moments of forgetfulness. Or maybe we can’t get to a decent bathroom on a road trip without fearing for our safety.
As a result, you might encounter a retained tampon or a tampon that has magically disappeared into your deep dark lagoon full of mystery. It happens more often than you know.
It sounds scary, and tampons come with those freaky safety warnings that scare the living shit out of you for a reason, but I can assure you, it’s not a scene from a horror flick.
That pesky tampon might still be in there, and just needs to be fished out.
Regardless, this one is easy to discern.
You would most definitely notice the smell first and can deal with the lady rocket accordingly by removing it yourself, however, I would recommend going to your family physician to have it removed if you encounter any problems whatsoever.
A retained tampon might not feel like anything and will be different for everyone, but there will be an odor like no other emanating from your lady parts.
It can smell like rotting meat, or be tinny/metallic.
Your discharge – if any – may be brown, pink, yellow, green or gray accompanied by a fever, swelling of the vaginal area, redness, pain while urinating, or a feeling of pressure or pain in the lower abdomen.
Maybe you forgot to remove your tampon after your period ended, or you accidentally put another one in before removing the one that was already there?
If you’re dealing with a septate hymen, tampon removal can be a difficult prospect that you may have put off for too long.
Or maybe a quick sex session happened and you forgot or didn’t have time to get to the bathroom? Nobody is going to judge you as to why it happened.
But it does need to be dealt with accordingly, and quickly.
Now for the scary part of a retained tampon – Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
Toxic shock syndrome is no joke. It is a condition caused by bacterial toxins that cause fever, tiredness, low blood pressure, coma and in some cases, death.
Please do not wear a tampon with too much absorbency for your flow, do not wear a tampon for longer than 8 hours without changing it, do not use more than one tampon at a time, and make sure you are following all guidelines in the enclosed pamphlet.
Guidelines should also be followed when using pads, or menstrual cups.
Anything foreign in, on, or around such a sensitive area should be taken with the utmost seriousness and respect. Your life is more important than that and TSS is not a risk worth taking.
Other Possibilities For Your Lady-Funk
The top 6 issues above are the most probable and likely causes of vaginal odor, but they aren’t ALL the possible reasons.
Some other reasons that make for a smelly vagina include:
- Lack of sleep – which can lead to a yeast infection
- Masturbation or sex (toxic sex toys are a thing)
- Poor hygiene
- Trichomoniasis – a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite
- Vaginitis – inflammation of the vagina that normally results from an infection
- Rectovaginal fistula – an abnormal opening or tear between the rectum and vagina that allows feces to leak in
- Cervical or vaginal cancer
Once you have eliminated vaginal odor, keep these preventative tips in mind to keep yourself feeling fresh:
- Eliminate or reduce underwear that doesn’t breathe. Cotton is best.
- Limit time wearing yoga pants or tight-fitting clothing. Go commando at home.
- Wash with a soap formulated for sensitive skin that is pH balanced, before and after sex.
- Maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle.
- Consider probiotic supplements with active cultures.
- Stay hydrated.
- Avoid anything scented or douching altogether.
Let me be clear ladies, this list comprised of the top six reasons why you COULD have an undesirable smell coming from your vagina is just a starting point and far from comprehensive.
There are so many other potential reasons why you might have a funky odor, itching or other symptoms that include STI’s – which is a topic on its own.
If you are still feeling unsure or have unresolved symptoms not listed above, please see a doctor, and please don’t wait!
There is no shame in having questions or concerns regarding your vaginal health and any discomfort you might feel as a result of unpleasantness emanating from your lady garden.
Your doctor or OB-GYN has heard it all, so please do not feel like you are alone.
And remember, it’s normal to sometimes have a smell coming from “down there” – it could be as simple as you being you!
Have you ever had a less than desirable smell coming from your lady garden? Are you dealing with it right now? Are you a bit confused because you’ve tried several remedies and are still having problems? Don’t worry, we’re here for you!
We’ve set up a forum to discuss this topic and answer any questions you might have when you need it most – whether you’re dealing with this issue right now, or have in the past.
Join our community and ongoing dialogue about this topic by clicking on the “Discuss” link/button that appears at the end of this article.