Vaginas have scents and smells associated with them, and those scents can be unique from woman to woman. Why do vaginas smell? Well, for a number of different reasons. Your diet can play a role, bacteria can cause vaginal odor. Your period will change the scent, and plenty of other reasons. Let’s go over some vaginal smells that you don’t need to worry about at all. We will look at some other vaginal odors that are cause for concern too.
What is normal vaginal odor?
All vaginas have a natural odor, but not all women smell alike. Natural vagina odor ranges from earthy, musky, sour, sweet, metallic, and even pungent at times.
Your diet, menstrual cycle, hormones, hygiene, and sexual activity all play a role in your natural odor. That means it’s not unusual to notice slight changes from time to time.
However, a drastic change in vaginal fragrance may be a cause for concern. Especially if it coincides with symptoms like vulvar itching, unusual discharge, burning, swelling, and redness.
Common Vaginal Odors and What Causes Them
Here are some common scents that you may experience. Remember that these can change over time. They can come and go in some cases, depending on the causes.
A sour or “tangy” vaginal odor reminiscent of probiotic yogurt might sound worrisome but don’t worry – it’s completely normal and generally nothing to worry about. It is thought to be caused by the presence of bacteria in the vagina which help maintain its naturally acidic environment.
This is important for protecting against harmful, infection-causing bacteria, but if the odor is particularly pungent you may want to get it checked out by your doctor to be on the safe side.
You might notice a slight metallic scent down below while on your period. This is due to the presence of iron in your blood. This smell should go away once your period is over.
You may also notice this particular scent following vigorous sex, which can result in light bleeding.
If you notice bleeding that is unrelated to menstruation and you’re experiencing additional symptoms like unusual discharge and itching, you should make an appointment with your doctor right away.
There are a few reasons why you might notice a smell similar to bleach or ammonia down below. If you use condoms or lube, the chemicals in both products can be responsible for this particular odor. The smell should fade within a few hours.
A buildup of urine on your underwear or vulva may also be responsible for this type of chemical smell. But if that’s the case, you might be dehydrated. Urine shouldn’t have much of an odor if you’re getting your recommended two liters per day.
In some cases, a common vaginal infection might be the culprit. Bacterial vaginosis often has a pungent odor that ranges from fishy to chemical-like associated with it. But don’t fret – it’s easy to treat with a round of antibiotics from the doctor.
Some women describe musky vaginal odor as smelling earthy like dirt, mulch, or even marijuana. This is the result of sweat produced by glands along your inner thighs, bikini line, and butt. If you are feeling emotional stress or anxiety, this is your body’s natural defense as it reacts to a perceived threat. It is nothing to worry about in most cases.
You can make a point to try to shower sooner after physical activity. You can also wear looser fitting or cooler clothing if you’re sweating during the day.
A pungent odor might sound like a bad thing, but in many cases it’s within the range of normal. Similar to how the smell of your urine and sweat changes based on what you eat, your diet can influence vaginal discharge, too.
Common smelly culprits are:
- Turmeric and curry
- Red meat
- Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, asparagus, cabbage, cauliflower, and brussel sprouts)
- Blue cheese (and other fermented foods)
When to Worry About Vaginal Odor
Here are some vaginal smells that you should pay closer attention to. They can be a sign of something more serious.
1. Bread-like Vagina Smell
A smell reminiscent of sourdough bread or pizza dough is an indication that you may be dealing with a yeast infection. If you notice other signs like thick, white vaginal discharge, itchy vagina, and redness or swelling on the vulva, it’s almost certainly going to be a yeast infection.
If you haven’t had a yeast infection before, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. If this isn’t your first infection, there are over the counter products that can clear it right up for you. You should notice an improvement within a few days. Just make sure you follow the directions of whatever you’re taking. Stopping treatment too soon can cause it to return.
2. Fishy Vagina Smell
A fishy vaginal odor is never a good sign, especially if it’s particularly pungent. It is generally caused by an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the vagina, resulting in an infection.
The most common bacterial vaginal infection is bacterial vaginosis. However, some sexually transmitted infections can cause a fishy odor too. It’s important to make an appointment with your doctor to seek appropriate testing and treatment as necessary.
This is one of the more “cliche” smells that women are made to feel ashamed of. Rather than hoping it will go away on its own, be proactive and get things checked. Dealing with it sooner is easier!
3. Foul Odor
If you have ever made the mistake of leaving a tampon in too long, you are probably familiar with this type of vaginal odor. Otherwise, imagine the odor of rotten meat or garbage and you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
If you can remove the forgotten tampon, do so. Otherwise make an emergency appointment with your doctor. It’s never a good idea to put that off or to leave anything inside you for extended periods of time.
You’ll probably be okay, but it’s a good idea to monitor for signs of toxic shock syndrome. If you think you may have TSS, seek urgent medical treatment.
4. Why Do Vaginas Smell Sweet?
A sweet smelling vagina might sound nice, but it could be a sign of diabetes. Caused by high glucose levels, this type of smell warrants a trip to the doctor. If your vagina smells overly sweet, then don’t freak out, just visit a doctor and get a check-up.
It’s not necessarily diabetes, though, some women are just blessed with a sweeter natural smell.
Final Thoughts on Vaginal Odor
This is something that women have been conditioned to worry about. Obsessing over having an odorless vagina is not a good idea, and not practical – some women just have more of a scent than others. But smells can tell you a lot about your vagina, so make sure you’re listening.
The next time you’re asking yourself “Why does my vagina smell?”, take a look at this list and determine whether it’s a smell to worry about, or something that’s perfectly normal. Knowing when to take further steps is important, you can catch certain health issues earlier on by paying attention to your body and what its telling you.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.