Vulva Smells and Myths
Updated: Nov 15, 2022
Another day, another cycle, another ‘is-that-a-normal-smell?’ in your Google search history as you face the age old question of, what is a normal vulva scent and more importantly, is mine normal?!
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Despite it feeling like some secret, gross problem that’s shrouded in shame and confusion, your vulva scent is completely normal. The truth is - there really is no one ‘normal’ scent, it’s all ‘normal’ in one way or another. So no, you don’t have to worry that you’re lacking proper hygiene or that you need to go out and buy products marketed as a fragranced fix-all solution for your vulva needs.
The different scents you experience are your vulva’s way of communicating with you and once you learn your vulva’s language, managing your body’s needs will become that much easier. Often, changing scents are related to unbalanced pH levels inside the vagina. The healthy pH balance is 3.5 to 4.5, which can constantly be fluctuating.
An unbalanced pH level can happen in a number of ways, from menstruation, to hormone fluctuations, to being sexually active (as semen can be a trigger), to a change in diet, or even using irritating products like douches.
An important reminder: proper hygiene only requires washing around the vulva, not inside. The vagina is self-cleaning, one of the many incredible things the female body can do!
Now, let’s talk about what your vagina could be communicating to you through these different scents.
Vulva Smells Sour, Sweet or Coppery
A more sour-smell is often caused by an increase in Lactobacilli, a good bacteria that helps prevent against the bad bacteria. Similarly, a sweet-smell is more harmless bacteria changes. A coppery-smell indicates blood, which can be linked to menstruation or as the result of sexual activity (potentially caused by dryness or vigorous sex). Both are nothing serious to worry about, unless there is any unusual bleeding, in which case you should visit your doctor.
Vulva Smells Fishy or Rotten
Scents that smell fishy, chemically, or rotten, are signs that something is wrong. Fishy or more chemically, are often indicators that an infection is occurring. Issues such as stress, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections or trichomoniasis could be the reason. A forgotten tampon inside the vagina could be another culprit. When in doubt, get yourself checked out!
If any of these smells are accompanied by pain, thick cottage-cheese-like discharge, itching, burning, or vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period, definitely make sure to seek a second opinion and receive the necessary medicine to help ease the symptoms.
Vaginal smells can change all the time, so it’s important to get to know your own scents. The more you know about yourself, the faster you can react to your changing odours and fix the problems that could be occurring.
Debunking Common Vulva Smell Myths:
Will my vaginal smell change with the food I eat?
You know, like the pineapple thing?
First and foremost, it’s important to remember vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like flowers or taste like fresh fruit. Vaginas with a healthy pH level should smell and taste just like a vagina, which can incorporate all of the above; sour, sweet and coppery. That being said, diet can play a very very slight role in the smell of your vagina. Foods that change the scent of your pee or sweat, will have the same impact on your vaginal smell. But overwhelmingly no, there is no scientific evidence that what you consume will majorly impact or change the smell of your vagina.
What is vaginal steaming? I hear that really cleanses everything out..?
Vaginal steaming has become a hot topic in our world today, as some celebrities endorse this practice as the best way to maintain a clean, healthy vagina. There is no scientific evidence that supports this claim, in fact there are more concerns than anything. There is a high risk for burning your fragile vaginal tissue or getting an infection from either unsanitary equipment or additives in the steam that increase yeast and other unhealthy bacteria that upsets the pH balance.
Does having sex change my vaginal odour?
Yes, having sex can change your vaginal odour. Penatrative sex can alter your smell because semen has a high pH level than the vagina. New partners can also result in new, unfamiliar scents to occur. Even if you aren’t having penis-in-vagina sex, things like sex toys, scented lubes or condoms can all change the way your vagina smells. Often, this isn’t a bad thing, but if you notice a persistent change in your scent followed by any other unusual symptoms, it’s best to get checked by your doctor just to be safe.
No matter what smells you’re experiencing, don’t feel ashamed! Remember it’s normal to go through these changes, all people with vaginas do. It’s a part of growing into yourself and learning all that your body can do, which is a pretty beautiful thing.
Edited by: Lisa Hou, Dallas Barnes