“Just like with the gut, the vagina has its own microbiome filled with different bacteria and yeast, many of which are incredibly helpful,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. And, yep, those bacteria give your vag its signature scent.
But uh, what exactly does that normal odor smell like? The acidic pH that is naturally found in the vagina [might make it] sometimes a little sour smelling, sometimes a little musty, says Christine Masterson, M.D., OBGYN and chief of the women and children’s service line at Summit Medical Group, but it should not be an overwhelming odor.
Still, there are times when you catch a waft that smells a bit off. The cause can be as innocuous as sweat or as troubling as an infection, says Minkin, so its worth taking a deeper whiff (yes, really) and investigating-especially if the unusual aroma is accompanied by symptoms like itching or out of the norm discharge.
Scan through the scents below to see if your smell is on our list, but don’t hesitate to get yourself checked out by a professional either way.
The most likely culprit behind this scent is bacterial vaginosis (BV), the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The infection can creep in when the vaginas pH gets thrown out of whack by an overgrowth of bad bacteria, says Minkin.
Docs aren’t sure what causes this to happen, but BV isn’t an STI, stresses Minkin. Which means that BV on its own is pretty harmless. Still, you want to get rid of that funk-and you may be able to re-balance your vaginal acidity via some over-the-counter pH warfare, says Minkin. Check your local drugstore for a pH gel, which is designed to balance out your vaginas pH and nix odors.
If this doesn’t take away the pungent stank within a week or so, see your gyn. You might need an antibiotic to clear up the infection, or you might actually have trichomoniasis, a common and easily treatable (via antibiotics) STI.
Most yeast infections are n’t terribly smelly, but occasionally the thick, cottage cheese-like discharge thats a hallmark of the itchy nuisance has a faint scent of beer or yeast. If you notice redness or burning around your vagina, or have pain after you pee, this is the likely cause, says Minkin.
Diabetic women may especially notice this since yeast feed on sugar, and diabetic women tend to have more glucose (a.k.a. sugar) in their vaginal secretions, says Minkin. See your doc about what’s going on down there, and she might prescribe something or recommend something you can buy OTC.
Two questions: Did you just pound out a major sweat session at the gym or are you wearing synthetic underwear (think: nylon or polyester-hey, I don’t judge).
Exercise and non-breathable knickers can cause a musky smell from trapped sweat, says Minkin. It should go away as soon as you shower (use just water or a mild soap). To minimize the scent in the future, switch to cotton undies (or at least ones that have a cotton lining) and dont sit around with sweaty clothes.
Of all the scents your vagina can have, this is definitely the most concerning one. A tampon that is been left in your vagina for days or longer can smell rancid or foul. The scent is brought on by an overgrowth of bacteria in a confined space, she says.
If you cant dislodge it yourself-an easy way tot do this is to lie on your back and reach into your vagina with clean fingers to search for the string, or squat with one foot propped on the toilet to try to fish it out-get to your ob-gyn who can fish it out with the aid of a speculum, and check to make sure nothings left behind.
One thing to note, though: If left behind too long, the bacteria can sometimes (but rarely) trigger toxic shock syndrome, a deadly condition linked to tampon use.
Blood (you know, from your period) can change the pH of your vagina, making it smell coppery or tinny, says Minkin. The odor should go away once the blood passes, but you can douche with an OTC vinegar and water if it lingers. Avoid going crazy with strong scented soaps because they can throw the pH even further out of whack, says Minkin.
There is a couple different reasons why your vagina might take on a chemical smell of bleach or ammonia: Masterson says that BV-which, again, usually smells fishy-can sometimes smell like ammonia instead.
There is also a chance that the smell is actually coming from your urine, especially if you are dehydrated. Lastly, Masterson says that intercourse (specifically the low-acid pH level of sperm) can trigger an ammonia smell, and so can any lubricants and spermicides you might have used. Basically, you can wait this smell out a little bit to see if it fades on its own. If it doesn’t in a few days, check in with your ob-gyn.
If you notice a sweet smell down there, you might not be super inclined to think anything is wrong (its better than a rotten smell, right?!). And you are pretty much right–Masterson says this is usually diet-related.
Believe it or not, this can be due to what you have been eating, she explains. Sometimes citrus fruit can cause a sweet odor. Asparagus and garlic are known to change the way urine and discharge smell, too.
That said, she adds that yeast can sometimes cause a sweet odor, so if you are also having symptoms of a yeast infection , grab an OTC treatment or check in with your doc.