Vaginal odours: What the different smells mean for your health

vaginal odours

The vagina has a distinct smell. One shouldn’t expect that it doesn’t but the scent isn’t supposed to be strong, pungent, or in your face.

It’s a smell that is low-toned and should generally only be picked up at a close range.

Anything other than that is cause for concern and knowing what is normal and what should be medically checked could be the key to determining if there’s an underlying issue.

It’s also important to stop the stigma in relation to the female genital region because of the fear of being labelled promiscuous.


What causes vaginal odour?

According to Dr. Portia Mosadi, Gynaecologist, Specialist Obstetrician & Aesthetic Gynaecologist in Rosebank and Polokwane, causes for vaginal odours can be vast.

“From simple hygiene problems such as excessive sweating to something more serious such as cancer. Vaginal odours can present itself during various stages of a woman’s monthly cycle, before and after her period,” explained Dr. Mosadi.

Dr. Mosadi stresses the importance of knowing your body and taking note of any changes to both odours and any discharge from the vagina.


The different vaginal odours and possible reasons behind them

Personal hygiene is a big factor when it comes to vaginal odours and Dr. Mosadi advises that women clean themselves after using the bathroom with both tissue and wet wipes.

“The vagina is an intricate part of the female anatomy. There are labia minora and labia majora that protect the vaginal canal itself. When a woman uses the bathroom and does not clean herself thoroughly afterwards, residual urine could be left behind which could cause an odour,” Dr. Mosadi explained.

Other minor factors that could cause vaginal odours include sweat, regardless of how big or small a woman’s physique. If someone is more prone to sweat, it’s necessary to be on top of personal hygiene to avoid a yeast infection.

Caused by the fungus candida that is found naturally within the vagina, the yeast infection causes inflammation, itching, burning, and a smelly discharge.

Another very common cause of vaginal odour is bacterial vaginosis, often misdiagnosed as an STI. This occurs when the pH balance inside the vagina has been disturbed.

This usually happens if a women douches, is on antibiotics or has unprotected sex. A healthy vaginal pH balance is moderately acidic, semen is alkaline heavy and unprotected sex can trigger an imbalance in the vagina, causing an odor or infection.


 Other reasons include:
Outside the vagina:
  • Legions or genital warts – if not treated they become infected and this can also cause an odor. Outside or around the vagina. This is a sign of an STD.
  • An abscess outside or around the vagina, that ruptures. The pus can cause an odor.
  • A smell can also occur before period or when ovulating.
Inside the vagina:
  • Vaginal sores can cause an odour.
  • Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or PID, an infection of the tubes and ovaries, which is caused by an STD can cause a bad odour.
  • Fibroids. When a fibroid degenerates and bursts, the fluid drains into the uterus and it can lead to a smelly discharge.
  • Cancer of the cervix or vulva


When should a woman get a check-up?

“Once a year for a general assessment,” says Dr. Mosadi. “If you can afford a pap smear every year do so. General national guidelines are based on affordability and accessibility and it’s advised that women should have a pap smear once every three years. But if we are to pick up and screen for cancer or other underlying health conditions, waiting three years might mean it’s progressed too far.”


It’s important for women to know their smell and what is normal discharge

If your discharge smells more than usual, it’s a sign of bacterial vaginosis. Your vagina should never smell ‘fishy’.

Normal discharge is clear and has no smell. A white, creamy discharge that is not smelly is also normal. If the discharge changes colour or consistency, i.e becomes thick or curd-like resembling cottage cheese it’s not normal.

Feature image: Sora Shimazaki from Pexels

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