As far as we’ve come in destigmatizing topics around women’s health, vaginal odor is a subject that’s not often discussed, and therefore remains shrouded in embarrassment and misconceptions. Vaginal scent is a normal aspect of a woman's body chemistry, and while a stronger-than-usual odor may be a sign that something’s not quite right, it is generally not cause for alarm. There’s a wide range of what’s normal when it comes to vaginal odor, as well as many reasons why it could be thrown off.
What’s “Normal” Vaginal Odor?
The smell of a vagina varies from person to person, and may change at different times in a woman's life due to hormonal fluctuations, diet, lifestyle and other factors. A mild, musky odor is typically considered normal. However, if the odor noticeably changes by becoming strong or unpleasant, it may be a sign of an underlying issue.
Common Causes of Vaginal Odor
Noticing something is off? These are some common lifestyle culprits to know about.
Tight and/or Synthetic Clothing
You may want to run a bunch of errands in your sweaty leggings after spin class, but prolonged wear of those tight, wet clothes can cause odor that remains long after you take them off and shower. Tight clothing can restrict airflow to the genital area, creating a warm, moist environment. This moisture can provide an ideal breeding ground for bacteria, which often leads to an increase in vaginal odor. Additionally, synthetic fabrics like nylon, polyester and spandex are less breathable than natural materials like cotton. This reduced breathability can trap moisture and heat, creating an environment that encourages bacterial growth and odor.
Diet and Lifestyle
Just as garlic can give you bad breath and asparagus can make your pee smell like that, what you eat and drink can affect the scent of your vagina. Foods to be wary of include onions, garlic, asparagus, curry, and red meat. Alcohol, too, can potentially influence your vaginal scent, as can not drinking enough hydrating fluids. Drinking plenty of water can help with natural vaginal lubrication, regulate body temperature, and reduce the concentration of waste products in sweat, potentially reducing odor.
It should come as no surprise that insufficient cleansing of the intimate area can lead to the accumulation of sweat, dead skin cells, and bacteria in the vaginal area, resulting in a strong or unpleasant odor. Maintaining proper hygiene is especially important during your period. Change sanitary products regularly, wash the genital area with mild soap and water, and opt for breathable cotton underwear whenever possible to reduce moisture buildup. Also, don’t be swayed by scented products that promise an “island breeze.” A vagina shouldn’t smell like a beach or bouquet—it should smell like you. Avoid using scented products that can disrupt the natural pH balance of your vagina.
Is your boyfriend throwing off your vaginal pH? Well, maybe. Sexual activity, particularly without proper pre- and post-play hygiene, can introduce new bacteria into the vagina. Semen, lubricants, and latex condoms can also affect the natural pH balance of the vagina, potentially leading to changes in odor.
pH Fluctuations During Menstruation
Did you know the vagina is normally slightly acidic? Menstrual blood is alkaline, and its presence can temporarily disrupt this balance, leading to a subtle change in odor. Additionally, menstrual blood can have its own distinct odor, causing a different smell from other times in the month. pH fluctuations can also occur during perimenopause and menopause, causing changes in vaginal odor.
Medical Causes of Vaginal Odor
Sometimes, something more serious could be causing vaginal odor.
Yeast infections are often accompanied by a thick, cottage cheese-like discharge and a yeasty odor. These infections occur when there's an overgrowth of the Candida fungus in the vagina, often due to factors like taking antibiotics, hormonal changes, or a weakened immune system.
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
BV is one of the most common causes of abnormal vaginal odor. It occurs when there is an imbalance in the vaginal flora, allowing harmful bacteria to proliferate. The result is a fishy or foul-smelling discharge. BV can be triggered by sexual activity, douching, or even certain medications.
Some amount of vaginal scent is a natural aspect of a woman's body—though no vagina should smell like a flower. Every woman is unique and what is normal for one person may differ from another, so trust your body and yourself if you feel something is “off.”
Vaginal scent can be influenced by various factors, including hormonal changes, infections, hygiene, diet, and lifestyle. A common denominator in many causes of abnormal vaginal odor is vaginal pH imbalance. While good hygiene and healthy lifestyle choices can help ensure a normal vaginal scent, an effective vaginal probiotic like URO is formulated to support a healthy pH and therefore a healthy vaginal scent.