For SELF, by Amy Marturana.
Vaginal smell can be a serious anxiety-inducing subject for women. Whether you’re concerned that your partner will be thrown off by your scent, or you’re worried that a change in smell means something terrible ― like, you must have an STD or be pregnant or have some sort of life-threatening disease ― it’s normal to be preoccupied with it.
The truth, though, is that it’s also normal for your vagina’s smell to change often. We’re not talking drastic changes, like it suddenly smells foul or fishy. But the scent can naturally be altered by so many factors, from how much you’re sweating to where you’re at in your menstrual cycle.
“The times women notice these changes are when they’re most anxious, like if they have a new partner or think their partner is cheating, then they start to become too attuned to what’s going on there and complain about things that are probably normal,” Michael Cackovic, M.D., an OB-GYN at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, tells SELF. There are some odors that can signal an infection, but other than that, little variations here in there in your scent is completely normal and healthy.
Here are five things that can change how your vagina smells (and no, pineapple isn’t one of them).
Sweet foods can’t change the scent of your private parts (fortunately/unfortunately). But eating a lot of certain foods ― like cabbage or garlic, for example ― can actually make your sweat smell differently. So if you’re sweating down there, it indirectly can alter how everything smells and make it seem like your vagina has a different scent. The smell should only stick around in your sweat for a few hours, though, Cackovic notes.
2. Your cycle
The point you’re at in your menstrual cycle can alter your scent, thanks to the change in hormones. “The surge in progesterone and estrogen at certain points and the way they dip at certain points can cause a change,” Cackovic says. Though it’s usually subtle and there’s a good chance you aren’t going to even notice it. Actually having your period can change the smell more dramatically, thanks to the odor of menstrual blood. “Blood smells, and old blood in the vagina can also have a smell,” Fahimeh Sasan, D.O., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, tells SELF. When your flow slows down toward the end of your period, blood oftentimes becomes more solidified and can hang up inside the vagina for a little before it comes out.
3. An infection
The most likely reason your vagina’s smell will change drastically is because of a yeast infection, an STI like chlamydia or trichomoniasis, or bacterial infection like bacterial vaginosis. Whenever the natural balance of bacteria or pH of the vagina changes, it can lead to an infection and change the smell. If you ever notice an odor paired with itching, burning, pain, irritation, or a change in discharge, it’s worth calling up your gyno to see what’s going on.
4. New bath products
“People who use the same soaps and detergents have less of a variation in their scent than people who are changing things often,” Cackovic says. In fact, he says the first thing he asks patients when they complain of vaginal odor is if they’ve changed soaps or started douching (a big no-no). The reason it changes the smell is because it alters the pH of the vagina.
Semen’s alkalinity can alter the pH of the vagina and change its smell immediately. “Although most of the semen drips out of the vagina after sex, some semen can remain in the vagina and cause a change in scent,” Sasan says. “This is not harmful and the smell will typically go away within a few hours or after taking a shower.”
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