All about vaginal odors

May 01, 2022 4 min read

All about vaginal odors

What is vaginal odor?

Your vagina is meant to have a smell just like any other part of your body! Its scent varies based on factors such as your hydration level, food intake, medication, overall health status and timing of your menstrual cycle.

 

What can your vagina smell like and why?

Subtle changes in your vaginal odor are ok and normal. The smell of your vagina alters due to your pH levels which can be affected for a number of reasons. Majority of vaginal odors include coppery, musky, meaty or fleshy although sex can alter your vaginal scent for a few hours, particularly if there was an exchange of bodily fluids. Here are some of the smells and why…

 

  1. Tangy or fermented

It is common for your vagina to smell tangy or somewhat sour. This smell is often compared to the smell of fermented foods. Good bacteria called lactobacilli is present in many healthy vaginas and can be found in food such as yogurt, sourdough bread and some sour beer.

“The pH of a healthy vagina is slightly acidic, between 3.8 and 4.5.” The lactobacilli is the reason for this and protects your vagina against an overgrowth of bad bacteria.

 

  1. Coppery or metallic

This type of vagina smell is generally nothing to worry about as it rarely signifies a more serious problem. Your vagina may smell like this for two reasons: blood or sex.

 

  • Blood contains iron meaning that when menstruating, your vagina may have a coppery or metallic odor.
  • Light bleeding after intercourse due to vaginal dryness or vigorous sex can cause small cuts or scrapes which lead to bleeding. This can also cause a coppery or metallic odor. To prevent this, try using lube.

The coppery or metallic smell shouldn’t be present for too long once menstruation or bleeding ceases. However, if your vagina has come into contact with semen, this can alter the pH level and change the vaginal odor. If you are experiencing bleeding that isn’t connected to your period or the metallic/coppery odor continues with itching and discharge, it is recommended to visit your doctor.

 

  1. Sweet

Generally, a sweet tinge is no reason for concern and occurs because of your ever-changing vaginal bacterial ecosystem.  This meaning the odor may sometimes be a little more on the sweet side!

 

  1. Chemically

This chemical odor similar to that of bleach can happen for two reasons. It is recommended to see a doctor if you think this may be what you are experiencing.

 

  • A build up of urine in your underwear or around your vulva can have a chemical odor. Remember that strong smelling urine can be a sign of dehydration.
  • Bacterial vaginosis can have a chemical or fishy smell. This occurs when there is “an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina. These anaerobic organisms are odorous.” Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include: fishy odor, thin white, grey or green discharge, vaginal itching and burning during urination.

 

  1. Body odor

Due to the sweat glands down there, your vagina can smell similar to body odor. Your body contains two types of sweat glands called the apocrine and eccrine. The eccrine glands produce sweat to cool your body down and the apocrine glands respond to your emotions. The apocrine glands populate your armpits and your groin. When you become stressed or anxious, the apocrine glads produce a milky fluid. When the fluid comes into contact with vaginal bacteria on your vulva, it can produce a pungent aroma.

 

  1. Fishy

Trimethylamine is the chemical compound responsible for abnormal vaginal odors such as a pronounced fish smell. This can happen for two reasons

  • Bacterial vaginosis can have a chemical or fishy smell. This occurs when there is “an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria in the vagina. These anaerobic organisms are odorous.” Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include: fishy odor, thin white, grey or green discharge, vaginal itching and burning during urination.
  • Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection that is curable with a course of antibiotics. The infection is a pronounced fishy odor, more so than bacterial vaginosis.

 

  1. Rotten

If you have a putrid smell coming from your vagina, it may actually be something inside your vagina. In some cases, it is often a forgotten tampon. If you find that this is something you’re experiencing, it is safe to take out yourself however, you can visit your doctor for them to help if you are struggling.

 

Generally abnormal vaginal odors are easy to recognise. If the odor becomes serious, it is most likely that other symptoms will occur alongside the smell. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Itching or burning
  • Pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Thick, cottage cheese discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period

 

Medical Disclaimer: Articles are intended for informational purposes only and should not be used as the basis of patient treatment. Ask a medical professional if you have any health-related questions or concerns.

 

Additional resources

 

Kassel, G. & Holland, K. (2022). 7 Tips when dealing with vaginal odor.https://www.healthline.com/health/how-to-get-rid-of-vaginal-odor#its-natural

 Wojcik, G. (2020). Molasses to pennies: All the smells a healthy vagina can be.https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/vagina-smells#1.-Tangy-or-fermented

 

 


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