This should go without saying, of course, but it’s something that needs to be said pretty often: It is totally normal for your vagina to have some sort of odor.
There will always be that one person (or one sub-culture on Twitter–looking at you, vagina steamers) that say there are certain things you can do to have no scent, but, uh, no. No two vaginas are exactly the same, of course, and some women have stronger scents than others, but you can generally rest assured that your vagina will always smell like, well, a vagina.
It will never smell like roses, or fresh aloe, or, like, a cool mountain breeze or something, and it would be in your benefit to steer clear of any type of product or person (a douche in either scenario, HEYYO) that promises to make it smell that way.
But perhaps you are wondering what your vagina’s smell means, exactly. The short answer is that, in most cases, a vagina smell basically just means that you have a vagina. But, if you’re looking for answers, check out these things that your vagina’s smell actually means – you might be surprised at some of them:
A bready or yeasty vaginal odor is, unsurprisingly, generally a sign of a yeast infection. This means that the yeast cells that naturally occur in small amounts in your vagina are multiplying more than they should.
So, if your vagina smells suspiciously like a loaf of bread, feels itchy and/or sore, and is emitting a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge, get some antifungal medication.
A metallic, iron-like scent might seem scary, but it’s actually nothing to worry about. A metallic scent can occur right after your period or having unprotected sex (which, you know — don’t do), since both menstrual blood and semen are more basic (on a pH level) than the normally-acidic vagina, which means that either one can alter its scent.
Still, this scent should be temporary, so if you notice it for more than a week and it is connected with other abnormal signs, like itching or off-colored discharge, check in with a doctor.
One of the most common concerns that girls tend to have about their vaginas is about it smelling “fishy.” And, if your vagina does smell strongly of fish, this is pretty well-founded — a strong, fishy odor generally signals infection.
Specifically, it can signal bacterial vaginosis (excessive growth of bacteria in the vagina that often leads to high amounts of fishy-smelling discharge) or trichomoniasis (a common STD that’s caused by an infection from a parasite and shows its symptoms in women with off-color discharge and a fishy scent).
So, if you’re noticing an intense, fishy smell down there that’s accompanied by itching, burning, and/or increased discharge, you might want to see a doctor.
A sour, stale, or musty scent can be another common indicator of an infection. The most common ones are bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis. So, noticing a Sour Patch Kids smell down there? Visit your doctor.
If you’ve got an infection, they’ll likely give you some antibiotics to clear it up. (You don’t have to do this unless the scour scent is really noticeable, though — since vaginas are slightly acidic, they give off a slightly sour smell naturally.)
Rotten smell, perhaps unsurprisingly, is not a scent that you want to be coming from your vagina. In some cases, it can mean that something is literally rotting up there, like a forgotten tampon on condom.
In any case, it’s definitely not healthy, and if your vagina smells decidedly foul, see your doctor ASAP to see what’s up. (And don’t be embarrassed about having your doctor deal with it — they’re a professional. It’s their job. They see and smell lots of things that most people would consider gross on a daily basis, and they would much rather you come in to see them than have you skip a visit for something that is potentially dangerous because you’re embarrassed.
If you’ve ever noticed a Clorox-y scent wafting up from down there, there’s no need to worry — this is totally fine. If you just had sex using a condom, this can leave a residual bleach or chlorine-like scent that lasts for a few days.
Didn’t have sex recently? No need to worry about that, either — some women’s discharge naturally smells a little bleachy. (And, of course, you probably know this, but just because some women’s vaginas naturally smell like bleach, this does not mean that you should actually try and make your vagina smell like bleach. Do not douche with bleach. That is all.)
Onions or garlic
If you’re trying to ward off Edward Cullen, a garlicky scent from your vagina is ideal. Otherwise? Not so much.
The good news, however, is that it’s pretty normal — if you’ve eaten a lot of garlic or onions over the past 48 hours, your body might be excreting those scents through your urine or feces for a day or so, causing you to think that your vagina smells like an Italian restaurant.
In other cases, this is just a sign of natural body odor. To deal, just take a bath or shower.
Musk is a strong-smelling odor that is generally used in women’s perfume. It is also a term, for whatever reason, for the scent of one’s vagina, but stronger. A lot of women are concerned about this, but you shouldn’t worry.
Usually, this happens after working out, wearing tight clothes or sweating a lot, since the sweat tends to intensify your vagina’s natural smell. If you want the scent to decrease, try wearing looser and lighter clothing to get some air flow down there.
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