6 types of vaginal smells and what do they mean for your vaginal health

Health, according to the World Health Organization, is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity”.[1] A variety of definitions have been used for different purposes over time. Health can be promoted by encouraging healthful activities, such as regular physical exercise and adequate sleep,[2] and by reducing or avoiding unhealthful activities or situations, such as smoking or excessive stress. Some factors affecting health are due to individual choices, such as whether to engage in a high-risk behavior, while others are due to structural causes, such as whether the society is arranged in a way that makes it easier or harder for people to get necessary healthcare services. Still other factors are beyond both individual and group choices, such as genetic disorders.

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The smell of your lady bits is NOTHING to be ashamed of. Here are 5 distinct vaginal smells and if you need to be careful about them

While you might want your vagina to smell like a fragrant flower, it ain’t normal. If you experience peculiar smells down there, it is nothing to worry about. A healthy vagina smells a little funky and the smell can change with our ovulation cycle too.

Did you know that your vagina has the power of self-cleansing? And some vaginal smells are a sign that your lady bits are healthy while some can be alarming. Yes, that’s true. But how do you differentiate between what’s normal and what’s not?

Dr Madhulika Sinha, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Aakash Healthcare, Dwarka, spoke to HealthShots about various vaginal odours and what causes them in the first place.

“Changes in vaginal scent are very common and nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s important to take them seriously because they could indicate a more serious health problem, such as an infection.” says Dr Sinha.

tight vagina
Some smells in your vagina may be due to an infection in the intimate area. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

“You may have bacterial vaginosis if you notice a strong, fishy odour coming from your vaginal area. It’s a vaginal infection caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria. A metallic vaginal odour is caused by blood from menstruation or light bleeding after sex travelling through your vaginal canal. If it smells rotten, fishy, or bread-like down there, you need to see your gynaecologist.”

We all know that our vagina has a smell of its own. At times, however, the vagina may end up smelling fishy, quite literally! This can happen due to causes such as infection, hormonal changes, or just poor hygiene. The way your vagina smells depends on a lot of things.

Reasons why your vagina smells foul:

  1. Diet you eat

Yes, ladies, food plays an important role in keeping your vagina healthy! Truth be told, you are what you eat. In case you are worried about your vaginal smell, you need to know that it can smell exactly like what you’ve consumed. Eating food that’s high in sugar, caffeine can lead to a putrid smell down there. Eating too much garlic, spices, and onions can also disrupt the pH of your vagina and worsen the condition. Eating fruits like pineapple, watermelon and spices like cinnamon and peppermint may help restore the bacterial balance in your vagina.

2. Your sugar intake

Not keeping a lid on your sugar intake can not only make you gain weight but also disrupt the flora in your vagina. A spike in blood sugar may cause yeast and infection in your vagina. This happens because sugar acts as a food for these microorganisms to thrive and cause sexual health troubles. Avoiding food with high sugar in it can help you put an end to that unwanted smell down there.

diabetes and sweets
Give up on that sugar rush for your vaginal health. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

3. Intimate hygiene

As well advertised it may sound, not cleaning your lady parts effectively will cause severe problems than just foul smell. The residues of urine or vaginal discharge can be a breeding ground for bacteria that can make your vagina smell worse. Maintaining a good hygiene is imperative for an overall betterment of your sexual health.

4. Not wearing a cotton underwear

Cotton is known for its ability to absorb the moisture around it and what’s a more humid place than your lady bits? Wearing a synthetic underwear may look fancy for the eyes but also fancy for the yeast and bacteria down there. They grow and thrive in such moist conditions, so switching to a cotton granny-panty may not be that bad for your vaginal health.

5 types of vaginal smells

Your vagina may have its distinct smell just like your body odour due to the sweat glands on your skin. But there are other similar smells that you must have experienced once in your lifetime. If you are unclear about what they meant, here’s the list of 5 vaginal smells along with their effect on your vaginal health.

  1. Fishy

If you notice a strong and fishy smell coming from your vagina, you’re dealing with a health crisis. The fishy smell is an outcome of an imbalance of the good and bad bacteria in the vagina. This condition is called bacterial vaginosis. As serious as it sounds, it is a common infection caused by an upset pH balance in your vagina. This problem can be accompanied by unusual discharge from your vagina. Either way, you don’t need stress. Just see your gynecologist so that they evaluate the situation and prescribe antibiotics if needed.

What do you think your vagina smells like? Image courtesy: Shutterstock

2. Metallic, penny like

In case you’re experiencing a metal like smell, it may be a knock from Aunt Flo. You can get a metallic smell in your vagina when nearing periods. It happens because your blood contains iron which is responsible for that metallic smell. It may go away once your flow stops and there’s nothing much to worry about. If the smell lingers even after your periods, you need to up your intimate hygiene game or see a gyno!

3. Rotten

Okay, this one is as problematic as it sounds. A rotten smell in your vagina indicates a forgotten tampon. Yikes! Imagine, you had a light flow and pushed a tampon in there but it’s left in there unattended? This may cause a build up of bacteria, and a foul smell.

4. Bread-like

Sorry for the food reference, but this peculiar smell can be caused by a yeast infection. Smell accompanied with cottage cheese-like discharge, and intense itchiness in the vagina are other telltale signs. A yeast infection and that ‘sour-doughy’ smell may worsen with excess intake of sugar in your diet. If you’re dealing with a yeast infection, visit your doctor and put that sugar cube down!

5. Garlic-like

You become what you eat applies to your lady bits! Pungent and strong-smelling foods like garlic and onion can make your vagina smell like them, too. You may not know but fragrant foods can change your vaginal odour. This doesn’t mean you should chew on star anise and cardamoms or you should cut down garlic and onions from your diet. This smell is absolutely normal and all you need to fade it is washing it down with a lot of water.

6. Bleach-like

Have you experienced a bleach or chlorine like scent right after sex? Well, it is absolutely normal. This smell is most likely due to the particular condom or lubricant you’re using. You can switch to a different brand of condom or lube, especially an unscented one, if the smell really bothers you.

Dr Sinha concludes, “It is perfectly healthy if the vaginal odour is tangy, fermented, or sour, as the odour is produced by normal bacterial flora. Overall, a doctor can only determine what is causing the strong vaginal smell. As a result, it’s critical to make an appointment with a gynaecologist as soon as possible in case of doubt.”

However, the good news is that your vagina is self-cleaning, you mustn’t use preservative intimate washes and cleansing products to get it squeaky clean. Washing your vagina with plain water will suffice. Follow healthy intimacy practices and your lady bits may smell fresh like a bed of roses, not literally!

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