Have you ever wondered, does that “smell right” or “look right”? Has your partner told you, “that just isn’t right!” Many patients wonder what is normal and what is not in regards to vaginal odor and discharge. I’m here to help set the record straight.
Many of our appointments as gynecology care providers relate to something called vaginitis. Vaginitis is a term we use to describe many different things including vaginal itching, vaginal odor, changes in vaginal discharge and general sense from a patient that “something just isn’t right down there.” Sometimes we are quickly able to diagnose a yeast infection or Bacterial Vaginosis (BV). Sometimes further work up is required to develop a diagnosis.
It is absolutely normal for you to have vaginal discharge of some kind. Your vagina is a mucus membrane like your mouth. Just as you wouldn’t want to have dry mouth, you similarly wouldn’t want a completely dry vagina. Likewise, vaginas are not meant to smell like flowers. A light odor or scent is perfectly normal, and at the end of the day or after an intense gym session it is normal to notice a slightly more pungent odor. Normal vaginal discharge can be clear to slightly white, and may be sticky/stretchy or thin depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle or what birth control method you may be using.
Vaginas require a very delicate pH balance. A pH imbalance can lead to vaginitis, other changes in vaginal discharge, and can even make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections. So how does one maintain that delicate balance? There are a few things we recommend to all patients to maintain vaginal health:
- Cotton underwear only! I really mean it -- that silky, lacey thong is appropriate only for very limited amounts of time. Materials other than cotton do not allow proper aeration of your vagina. At bedtime if you can go without underwear at all that is ideal.
- Do not use feminine washes or douche. Many expensive feminine products are advertised as ways to “balance your feminine pH” when they actually do the opposite by disrupting your healthy vaginal pH and potentially eliminating the “healthy” bacteria that needs to live in your vaginal tract. Douching can even move harmful bacteria from your vagina to your uterus.
- When washing it is best to just let water gently run over your labia. If you really want to use soap, it should have no more than three ingredients and should not be scented.
- Urinating before and after sex is helpful as well. It can help keep your urinary tract clear of bacteria.
- Many people find taking daily probiotics limits occurrences of vaginitis. I prefer capsules as opposed relying on yogurt and/or Kombucha, as some food products often have a lot of sugar that can lead to yeast infections.
If you believe you are suffering from vaginitis please make an appointment to see your gynecologist, certified nurse-midwife or women’s health nurse practitioner. Ultimately a trained eye and specific lab tests are the only way to know what exactly is going on. If you are in the Northern Virginia Area and looking for obstetrical or gynecological services please reach out to Capital Women’s Care Division 67 (https://www.capitalwomenscareobgyn67.com/) and make an appointment with one of our health care providers today.