Why does my vagina smell?

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You’re probably here reading this article because you’re too embarrassed to ask the question out loud. We get it – it’s not easy to bring up a certain, uh, scent ‘down there’ up with your best mates or your partner. But… it is something you should feel comfortable discussing with your doctor, because if your vagina smells bad, there’s definitely a reason. And sometimes, that reason can be quite serious and require medical attention (sometimes, it isn’t though!).

Want to jump to the section that’s right for you? Here’s the eight reasons for vaginal smell we’ll be covering in this guide:

  1. Bacterial vaginosis
  2. Periods
  3. Vaginal thrush
  4. Forgotten tampons
  5. Sexually transmitted infections
  6. Sweat
  7. Urinary tract infection
  8. Cancer

But first of all...

What should a vagina smell like?

Before we get to the reasons why sometimes your vagina smells bad, let’s answer the question: what should a vagina smell like? It’s not like a bouquet of flowers. Your vagina should never smell like that. A healthy vagina will smell different from person to person, because everyone has their own unique scent. However, a typical vagina is often described as smelling slightly "musky" or even "earthy". If your vagina smells bad or really strong, there could be something off.

It’s important to understand that your vagina is delicately balanced with vaginal flora. This makes it easily affected by different situations and even products. Having sex, being on your period or using shower products can all affect the way your vagina smells.

So, let’s get onto 8 reasons for different vaginal odours and a few tips on how to make your vagina smell nice.

_1._bacterial_vaginosis"> 1. Bacterial vaginosis

If you’ve ever thought, "why does my vagina smell fishy?", it could be because of bacterial vaginosis (it could also be an STI, but we’ll get to that later). The most common bacterial vaginosis symptoms include an usual discharge and a fishy smell. If you think you have this condition, you should chat to your GP, pharmacist or visit a sexual health clinic. Don’t worry: bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (however, it does make you more likely to get one, like chlamydia).

So, how does it happen? It’s all down to the vaginal flora we spoke about: when the good bacteria that’s part of your vaginal flora becomes unbalanced, it can cause bacterial vaginosis. Sometimes, this unbalance can be caused by having sex (even with same sex partners), having a new partner, having an IUD fitted or using perfumed products in or around your vagina.

_2._your_period"> 2. Your period

You might have noticed that your vagina has a metallic or coppery smell when you’re menstruating. A lot of the time this is super normal and nothing to be worried about. Your vaginal flora can become a little unbalanced when you’re on your period because blood has a higher pH level. This can also happen if you experience light bleeding caused by sex, which is quite common. The smell will usually go away after your period. If it doesn’t or if you’re at all worried about the strong vaginal smell, you should book an appointment to see your GP, just in case it’s something else that needs to be looked at.

_3._vaginal_thrush"> 3. Vaginal thrush

If you notice a yeast-like smell down there, you might have vaginal thrush. These kinds of infections are really common and nothing to be ashamed of (guys can even get male thrush too, you know – we wrote a whole guide about it). A vaginal thrush infection will usually cause itching, burning and changes to your discharge, which can be white and lumpy. The discharge doesn’t usually smell, but if you have a more serious case of vaginal thrush and your vagina smells bad, you should see your GP to rule out any underlying conditions.

_4._forgotten_tampon"> 4. Forgotten tampon

This is way more common than you might think. If your vagina smells bad, even rotten (sorry, there’s no nice way to put that), there’s a chance you may have forgotten to take a tampon out. When this happens, bacteria builds up in the forgotten tampon and causes your vagina to smell this way.

This is nothing to be embarrassed about, we promise. However, forgotten tampons can cause health problems as they really shouldn’t stay up there too long, and can even lead to the potentially fatal ‘Toxic Shock Syndrome’ (TSS) – so you need to get it removed. You can try to remove the tampon yourself, but if you can’t, it’s very important that you get to a GP or a sexual health clinic to have it taken our as soon as possible.

_5._sexually_transmitted_infections_(sti)"> 5. Sexually transmitted infections (STI)

If you’ve noticed an unpleasant odour or if your vagina smells like fish (like with bacterial vaginosis), you might have an STI like trichomoniasis (pronounced: trick-o-muh-nye-sis). If you have this STI you’ll also notice more vaginal discharge than normal that’s thin, thick or frothy and also yellow / green in colour. You might also experience swelling, soreness and itching around your vagina and pain when you pee or have sex. If you suspect you have an STI, you should visit a sexual health clinic. Don’t be embarrassed to do this. The staff at sexual health clinics are lovely, helpful, understanding and let’s be honest – they’ve seen everything. E-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.

_6._sweat"> 6. Sweat

Yep, this is an obvious one, but one you might not have thought of. Having an intense workout session might be the reason your vagina smells bad. When you sweat, the glands in your groin release an oily fluid that’s broken down by the bacteria on your skin, which is what’s causing the smell. It’s nothing to be worried about. A refreshing shower will usually take care of it (which is the right thing to do after a great workout sesh, anyway).

_7._urinary_tract_infection_(uti)"> 7. Urinary tract infection (UTI)

If you notice an ammonia type smell down there, you might have a urinary tract infection, which can also cause pain, burning and even a high temperature. UTI symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning when you pee
  • Peeing more often at night
  • Cloudy pee
  • Needing to pee more often or more urgently than usual
  • Blood in your pee
  • Pain in your lower tummy, back or just under your ribs
  • High or low temperature

If you have, or think you have a UTI, you should get in touch with your GP ASAP or chat to a pharmacist who’ll be able to offer expert advice. UTI’s can go away by themselves, but you also might need specific antibiotics for UTI to clear it up – and as UTI’s can turn into kidney infections, it’s not worth risking it.

_8._cancer"> 8. Cancer

Although it’s very rare, sometimes if your vagina smells bad and has discharge that has a metallic and sickly odour, it could be a sign of cervical or uterine cancer.

The smell will be different from a fishy one or a metallic one that you may notice when you have your period. It’s not likely that this will be the first sign or symptom though. If you do notice this smell, it’s very important that you see your GP to be checked out and to discuss any other symptoms you may have. But please don’t diagnose yourself with cancer straight away – it’s much more likely to be something minor first, and always speak to your GP to calm your fears.

How to make your vagina smell nice

This is the part you’ve been waiting for, right? First, let’s speak about what 'nice' means. It doesn’t mean smelling like your summer garden shower gel, or any kind of perfume. Your vagina should smell both unique and natural. Remember that your vaginal flora is delicate and changes often, so the smell won’t always be the same – and that’s absolutely normal. The beautiful thing about a vagina is that it’s a self cleaning organ (how cool is that?). But there are a few things you can do to help it along. Here are some do’s and don’ts:

  • Try vaginal probiotics: A vaginal probiotic like Optibac Probiotics for Women contains good bacteria that’s been highly-researched and proven to reach your vaginal flora alive. This can help to keep your vaginal flora balanced and healthy.
  • Eat a healthy diet and drink plenty of water: Yes, we all know this helps to keep our bodies healthy, but remember your vagina is part of that.
  • Wash before and after sex: Sex comes with bacteria and other substances like lube or spermicides from condoms which could upset your vaginal flora. Washing with plain water before and after sex will help to keep things in balance.
  • Let your vagina breathe: Ditch the super tight clothing, or at least try not to wear it all the time to allow your vagina to get plenty of oxygen, which helps it to stay healthy.
  • Don’t douche: Please, please, please don’t douche. Not only can this be a little invasive, but it can also really upset your vaginal flora, which can cause all sorts of problems you don’t want or need. You may think that douching gets rid of bad bacteria, but it also strips your vagina of the good bacteria.
  • Don’t use scented period products: Remember when we said your vagina shouldn’t smell like flowers? There’s a good reason for that. Perfumed products can also mess with your vaginal flora and cause problems. Don’t feel pressured by your partner or friends. You might also want to try organic period products like &SISTERS Naked Tampons Mixed Pack, which are natural, sustainable and made with organic cotton.

Ready to keep your vagina in tip-top condition? Head over to our feminine care section to find great products that can be on your doorstep tomorrow.

Written by Natasha Edwards