Gwyneth Paltrow has promoted the vagina-scented candle. It has notes of citrus, geranium, and roses and claims to smell unexpected and sexy as a vagina. However, there is a common misconception that the vagina is supposed to smell like fruits and roses. So what is the normal vaginal odor? What causes the smell? And when should you worry about it?
Every person has a unique vaginal smell.
The vaginal flora and pH level influence the vaginal odor.
The abnormal vaginal smell is described as fishy or foul.
You should contact your healthcare provider if the abnormal vaginal smell is accompanied by other symptoms.
What makes the vagina smell?
The pH level and vaginal flora of a person influence vaginal odor. Various bacteria grow in the vagina and help to keep the environment acidic (balances pH levels). Vaginal infections are avoided when the flora is balanced. Because of the individual's somewhat different vaginal flora, the vaginal pH ranges from 3,8 to 5.0. As a result, every person’s vagina can smell slightly different.
How should a healthy vagina smell?
The smell of the vagina differs from person to person. According to a study, every person’s vaginal smell is complex, extremely individual, and consists of numerous "mini scents". Here are some examples of normal vaginal odor:
- Metallic. It is similar to the smell of pennies or copper. This odor might be caused by menstrual blood or minor bleeding after intercourse. The iron that is present in the blood causes a metallic smell.
- Sour, tart, and yeasty. It has the scent of sourdough bread. The vaginal lactobacilli create lactic acid, hydrogen peroxide, and other compounds that help to maintain a healthy pH level in the vagina. The pH is acidic (ranges from 3.8 to 5.0) and causes the vaginal discharge to smell sour.
- Ammonia-like, bleachy. The scent is comparable to a freshly cleaned kitchen sink. A chemical odor might indicate that there is urine residue on the vulvar area. Moreover, it may indicate a vaginal pH imbalance due to bacteria changes in the flora.
- Sweet, bittersweet, and molasses-like. Some people say it smells like gingerbread. It is a sign of a vaginal pH imbalance caused by changes in vaginal bacteria.
Reasons for abnormal vaginal odor
An unpleasant vaginal smell is most frequently caused by:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV). A vaginal infection caused by an overgrowth of G. vaginalis and other anaerobic bacteria. The odor has been characterized as pungent and fishy. Other symptoms include vulvar itching, discomfort, and gray or white homogeneous discharge.
- Trichomoniasis. A parasitic vaginal infection that spreads through sexual contact. The symptoms are green or yellow discharge and a fishy, musty odor. It might be asymptomatic at times.
- Forgotten tampon. The smell is described as rotten meat. Once you remove the tampon from the vagina, it should go away.
Other rare conditions that may represent foul odor discharge are cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, or rectovaginal fistula.
When should you visit a doctor?
You should visit a healthcare provider if you’re suffering from persistent abnormal vaginal odor (fishy or foul) or smell that is followed by other conditions, such as:
- Changes in vaginal discharge;
- Redness or rash in the genital area;
- Irritation and itchiness;
Swelling or burning of the vulva;
- Abdominal pain;
- High temperature;
How a doctor checks if the smell is abnormal?
A healthcare specialist might do the following to discover what is causing a foul vaginal smell:
- Talk about medical history and symptoms. It is done to determine the risk factors and course of symptoms to help reach the diagnosis.
- Do a vaginal exam. The goal is to determine whether there is evidence of inflammation or abnormal discharge in the vagina.
- Take a vaginal discharge sample. It is done to determine if there is a flora imbalance.
- Perform a pH test on your vaginal discharge. If the pH is more than 4.5, this might be an indication of BV.
- Perform a "whiff" test on the discharge. On the vaginal discharge, a 10% potassium hydroxide solution is applied. If the discharge begins to smell fishy or ammonia-like, this is an indication of BV.
Going for a checkup – should you be ashamed?
Never be ashamed or scared to visit the doctor if you experience a strange vaginal odor. The gynecologist is a qualified expert who is there to make sure you stay healthy and answer any of your questions regarding the health of your vagina.
Being clean, keeping track of your period, and finding a doctor you feel comfortable with asking questions are the best ways to get ready for a gynecologist checkup.
How to maintain vaginal health
You should develop healthy practices to maintain the cleanliness of your vulva and to prevent infection and foul smell in the vagina:
- Maintain good hygiene;
- Don't use irritating soaps or fragranced products;
- Never use douches;
- Wear cotton, breathable underwear;
- Use protection during intercourse.
Many people are wrong to believe that the vagina should have no odor or smell like a flower or fruit-scented candle. Due to slightly different vaginal pH levels and flora, every person has a unique vaginal odor. As long as you practice good hygiene and the odor is not foul or fishy or accompanied by other symptoms, you shouldn't be concerned and self-conscious. If the vaginal smell is bothering you, you should talk to your gynecologist.
- UpToDate. Vaginal discharge (vaginitis): Initial evaluation.
- Diagnostics. Vaginal pH Value for Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment of Common Vaginitis.
- Archives of Gynecology and Obstetrics. The odors of the human vagina.