Does My Vagina Smell Normal?

I feel like every lady wonders this at some point in their lives, especially when vag-perfuming products hang out right next to the tampons in the store. Do I need to be using those products? Let me be among the first to tell you this—NO, you don’t. If your vagina is smelling like rosebuds, or putrid, then you have a big freakin’ problem, and you’re probably getting pretty damn itchy. Oh, and ain’t nobody going to be sticking their fingers or face up in there. So listen up, darlings!

The vagina is a truly fascinating orifice, and is uniquely designed to maintain its own health. Vaginal health primarily centers around maintaining an appropriate acidic pH of 3.8 to 4.5. To put that pH in perspective:

  • ACIDIC = low pH
  • pH of 2 = stomach acid, lemon juice, vinegar
  • pH of 3 = orange juice, soda
  • pH of 4 = tomato juice, acid rain
  • pH of 5 = black coffee, bananas
  • pH of 7.3 = human blood
  • pH of 9 = baking soda
  • pH of 10 = most soaps
  • BASIC = high pH = alkaline

A normal acidic pH is maintained by certain strains of good bacteria. Normal vaginal discharge is acidic and acts as a natural cleansing agent for the inside of the vagina (discharge gets screwed up if you use douches). It varies in appearance and consistency—from clear and thin to white-yellow and thick. Women tend to be uncomfortable with checking out their own anatomy and secretions, but it’s worth it to be familiar with your bits. As long as you’re up-to-speed on what’s normal in the nether regions, then you’ll be among the first to know when things deviate from your norm.

When an infection is going to town in the nether regions the bits tend to get pretty stinky, and that usually means that the vaginal pH has increased. Many factors can mess up that pH, including soaps (which all have a high pH), perfuming products, semen (also alkaline), uncontrolled diabetes, or STIs. Another prominent factor is antibiotic usage which, in addition to killing off the bacteria that are making you sick, also kill off the good bacteria in your gut (hello, diarrhea) and vagina (hello, yeast infection). For example, one of Literally, Darling’s unfortunate authors contracted a urinary tract infection, was put on antibiotics, which resulted in her also contracting a yeast infection. Needless to say, she had some unhappy lady bits for a while.

Now that you’re thoroughly concerned about your bits, let’s talk about a couple of steps you can take to avoid the itchy and stinky states. Remember, there’s normal musky and then there’s the oh-my-god-what-is-wrong smell.

Wash Yo’self

I don’t mean just letting the water spray over your vulva and calling it a day. I mean making sure to separate, and clean between, your inner and outer labia, and also making sure to clean under the clitoral hood. If you neglect this step, then everything gets kind of stuck together, which results in a smelly situation. Use your fingers, instead of a washcloth, to clean the area as scrubbing with a washcloth is irritating and less precise.

It is best to just use warm water to clean your persnickety puss as it is very sensitive, and you don’t want to alter the pH of your vagina. Your vagina is essentially the most fabulous self-cleaning oven ever. Liquid body gels, cheap washes, feminine sprays, douches, and perfumes are NOT the answer, as they just increase irritation and make the vaginal pH all wonky. Even shampoo run-off from your head can have an unhealthy effect on your bits. Do NOT, under any circumstances, put soap (even if it’s supposedly vag-friendly) up your vaginal canal, or spray water directly into your vagina.

Navigating The Underwear Dilemma

In addition to maintaining a healthy vag-pH, ensuring adequate airflow in the nether regions is really important. The vagina is an orifice and has sweat glands, and the overall vulva has oil-secreting glands and is covered in hair. So, much like your armpits, if there isn’t enough of a breeze floating through the area, thing will start to get smelly from trapped moisture. Cotton underwear is the way to go, as it helps keep things dry, whereas nylon and lycra underwears are not your best breezy friend. Also, chronic wearing of pads and pantiliners will also lead to stifling your bits and increase your risk of contracting an infection.

Now darlings, let’s talk thongs. Yes, they can look hot and yes, it’s a relief to not have to worry about whether your underwear line is showing underneath your jeggings. But, thongs can cause a LOT of vulval irritation as it’s essentially a thin piece of fabric rubbing on one of your body’s most sensitive areas for hours at a time. In addition, thongs can transfer butt bacteria to the vaginal area which can lead to a really gnarly urinary tract infection and/or vaginal infection. So, the next time you’re about to put on a dress that you would typically wear a thong with, try going commando. Even wearing no underwear at night while you sleep can be a welcome reprieve for the nether regions. This lets your kitty breathe and escape irritation, and as a bonus, makes it easy to have a quickie. What’s not to love about no underwear?

Medications That Affect Your Vagina

As I mentioned earlier, antibiotics can be your vagina’s worst nightmare. But, sometimes they’re necessary and you just have to play with the cards you’ve been dealt. The next time you’re about to be put on an antibiotic, ask your doctor for a probiotic recommendation. Yoghurt naturally has good bacteria, but sometimes it just won’t cut it. Not only will a probiotic help your vagina stay healthy, but it will also help you avoid the gut issues that can also make your life a living hell. Consider probiotics for women that have been shown to help regulate not only digestion, but also vaginal pH. Regulating vaginal pH is important because it can help avoid odors and discharge due to bacterial vaginosis and related issues.

Antihistamines can also cause vaginal dryness, which means that you aren’t secreting your normal level of vaginal discharge. Again, you’re typically having to choose the lesser evil, and no one likes to be a sneezing, snotty mess when you’re sick or have chronic allergies. But, it’s helpful to know that if you’re having vaginal issues, your allergy drugs might be a contributing factor. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to keep your sinuses clear and your puss happy.

Finally, this piece is by no means meant to be a substitute for talking to your gyno about your vaginal issues. If you think something is seriously wrong, please make an appointment or phone date with your “crotch doc.”

What have you found is the best method for keeping your vagina healthy? Do you have any vag horror stories? Comment below or tweet us @litdarling!

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