Help, I have vaginal odor, what should I do?
For several days, your vaginal discharge has had a particular smell. Different from the smell you know. You feel like they smell bad, your vagina smells bad , and you smell bad. Don't worry, it's not necessarily a lack of hygiene. There are several causes that can lead to bad vaginal odor , such as periods, taking antibiotics or different pathologies. And unfortunately, scented intimate products and vaginal douches can't do anything about it! What should you do if you feel like your vagina smells bad? In this article, we give you the most probable causes as well as different solutions.
Is vaginal odor normal?
It is normal for your vagina and vaginal discharge ( white discharge and vaginal bleeding) to have an odor. It's not so much the organs (vagina and uterus) that give off an odor as the vaginal discharge.
On the one hand, menstruating people may feel a little “stronger” during their periods. Periods themselves can actually cause odors, particularly through sanitary protection where blood collects.
On the other hand, white discharge comes from the natural cleaning process of your vagina. Their role is to expel what disturbs the balance of the vagina: remains of fluid (semen, cervical mucus, etc.), bacteria, fungi, etc. Good and bad bacteria proliferate and balance themselves in the vaginal flora.
However, the fragile balance of the vaginal flora can be disrupted for various physiological reasons (antibiotics, menstruation, pregnancy, etc.), poor hygiene or even pathological reasons (diseases, infections, etc.). This can cause bad odors and bother you.
What is normal?
It is normal to have:
- vaginal odor that varies, sometimes intensifies, decreases at other times
- vaginal discharge that varies in quantity, color, texture
To understand why, let's discover together the concept of vaginal pH and the natural variations that can occur inside it.
The pH of the vagina
The vagina is an acidic environment thanks to its bacterial flora: in premenopausal women, a normal vaginal pH varies from 3.8 to 4.5. Lactobacilli, streptococci and other healthy microorganisms secrete lactic acid. This natural acidity helps regulate the bacteria present and prevent the proliferation of pathogens responsible for infections.
The pH of the vagina changes throughout a woman's life. If it is neutral before the first period, it gradually decreases to reach an average of 3.8 to 4.5 which it will maintain until menopause. Then the vagina becomes less acidic again.
Natural variations in vaginal flora
The pH of the vaginal flora varies daily under the action of different factors which are natural or not, and which can destabilize the vaginal flora and lead to occasional and natural vaginal odors :
- hormonal variations: pregnancy, menopause... these moments in women's lives can cause natural variations in the vaginal flora.
- periods: pH increases during periods. This may explain, for example, that you feel like you give off a stronger odor just before and during your period;
- more or less significant vaginal discharge: cervical mucus is linked to the menstrual cycle. It changes greatly during the latter and this can have an impact on the pH of your vagina;
- taking antibiotics: antibiotics can destabilize the pH of the vagina;
- unprotected sexual intercourse: semen increases the vaginal pH for a few hours.
🍳And the food? It is common to think that the foods we eat could have an impact on our smell, in particular because of the pH of the foods and their smell. However, this still remains to be demonstrated: the studies do not point in this direction.
What causes vaginal odor?
Bad odors from private parts can mainly be explained by poor hygiene and various pathologies.
Poor hygiene or practices
Bad vaginal odors can firstly be linked to a lack of hygiene or poor practices which weaken the vaginal flora. Here are some tips to take better care of your vagina and vulva:
- Practice gentle daily cleansing
- Be careful with dirty gloves and towels! If you use a washcloth to clean your vulva, change it regularly. The same goes for your towels. Like sponges, gloves and towels are breeding grounds for bacteria and by trying to clean yourself you unfortunately risk making the problem worse;
- Never douche: this practice of putting water directly into your vagina is particularly aggressive. It risks unbalancing your vaginal flora and making the problem worse;
- Avoid scented intimate products: if you like to use wipes to clean yourself after going to the bathroom, choose unscented and hermetically sealed wipes;
- Wipe from front to back: When you go to the toilet, always wipe from front to back, from your vulva towards your anus. This will prevent you from bringing bad bacteria back into your vagina;
- Change your sanitary protection regularly during your period: on the one hand, the blood that macerates in your pad / tampon / period panties for a day can have unpleasant odors, on the other hand it can lead to the appearance of bacteria and cause unpleasant odors. Change your clothes regularly during your period.
Also read: Which hygienic protections to choose? >
Vaginal yeast infection or vaginal candidiasis
Vaginal candidiasis , also known as vaginal thrush or vaginal yeast infection, is a fungal infection of women's private parts and particularly the vagina . This infection is mainly caused by the fungus Candida albicans , although other types of yeast can also be responsible: if your doctor suspects this type of infection, he may offer a sample to be able to better treat you. Vaginal candidiasis is quite common and can affect women of any age.
In addition to the bad odors emanating from your vaginal discharge, other symptoms can alert you:
- Vaginal itching: this is one of the most common symptoms. Itching can be mild to severe;
- Vaginal discharge with a peculiar appearance: your discharge is white, thick and a little lumpy, like cottage cheese. It may sometimes be odorless or have a slight yeasty odor;
- Irritation and redness: the genital area may be red and irritated, uncomfortable;
- Pain during sexual intercourse: Sexual intercourse may become painful due to vaginal irritation;
- Burning sensation when urinating: this symptom is also commonly associated with cystitis (urinary infections): it depends on the other symptoms.
Treatment for vaginal candidiasis usually involves the use of antifungals, either in the form of creams, suppositories or tablets. It is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment tailored to your situation. We recommend that you avoid self-medication: you risk worsening the existing imbalance.
Bacterial infection or bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection that results from an imbalance of bacteria naturally present in the vagina. Unlike vaginal candidiasis, bacterial vaginosis is characterized by an excessive proliferation of bacteria, mainly Gardnerella vaginalis , with a decrease in lactobacilli, bacteria normally predominant in a healthy vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is quite common and can affect women of any age.
The main symptom of bacterial vaginosis is the strong, fishy odor that comes from your discharge. This smell may be more pronounced after sex or during menstruation. In addition to these bad odors, other symptoms may make you think of bacterial vaginosis:
- Vaginal discharge with a peculiar appearance: vaginal discharge may have a grayish tint and be liquid;
- Vaginal itching or irritation: Some women may experience itching or irritation, although this is not always the case;
The diagnosis of bacterial vaginosis is established by a health professional after a clinical examination and, sometimes, following samples. Treatment often involves the use of antibiotics, such as metronidazole or clindamycin, in the form of oral tablets, creams, or vaginal suppositories.
It is important to consult a healthcare professional if you have suspicious symptoms, as untreated bacterial vaginosis can lead to potential complications, including an increased risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and complications during pregnancy. As with vaginal candidiasis, we recommend avoiding self-medication to avoid making symptoms worse.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) caused by a single-celled parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. This infection primarily affects the genitals, but it can also affect other parts of the body, including the urethra in men and the bladder in both sexes. Trichomoniasis is one of the most common STIs worldwide: it is mainly transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected person.
In women, one of the most characteristic symptoms of this STI is yellow-green vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor. In addition to this symptom which should lead you directly to a healthcare professional, other symptoms may indicate trichomoniasis:
- Genital itching or irritation: This may include itching or burning in the vagina or vulva;
- Pain or discomfort during sex;
- Burning sensation when urinating: this symptom is also commonly associated with cystitis (urinary infections): it depends on the other symptoms.
Diagnosis of trichomoniasis is usually made by a healthcare professional who can perform laboratory tests on a sample of genital secretions. Treatment usually involves antiparasitic medications, such as metronidazole or tinidazole. If you suspect you may be affected, do not hesitate to consult a health professional to avoid complications and use a condom to protect your partners in the event of sexual relations.
The different pathologies presented above can be caused by different behaviors and diseases.
Unprotected sexual intercourse, with a recurrent partner or multiple partners, increases the risk of being affected by a sexually transmitted infection but also of bacterial vaginosis. Sexually active women therefore have a higher risk of developing bacterial vaginosis – although the latter can also affect women who are not sexually active.
People with diabetes have an increased risk of yeast infections. Diabetic women therefore have a higher risk of developing vaginal candidiasis.
Hormones have an impact on the vaginal flora. Hormonal imbalances, which can be linked to the menstrual cycle, illnesses (PCOS and thyroid problems) or even pregnancy and menopause, can thus lead to the development of pathologies such as bacterial vaginosis and vaginal candidiasis.
Sanitary napkins, particularly in cases of allergy to sanitary napkins , can cause an imbalance in the vaginal flora and thus create various pathologies. This is also the case if you keep sanitary napkins for too long.
This practice, which consists of introducing a jet of water inside the vagina to “clean” it, tends, on the contrary, to disrupt the vaginal flora and generate pathologies. Bacterial vaginosis and vaginal candidiasis can be caused by douching.
When to worry and what to do?
If you don't have to worry about the smell of your vaginal discharge during your period, new bad vaginal odors coupled with symptoms such as different white discharge, itching, irritation, burning when urinating or pain during vaginal penetration should alert you.
If you observe one or more of these symptoms in addition to a bad vaginal odor, we advise you to consult your doctor quickly. The pathologies presented above are not serious but they all need to be treated to avoid your discomfort and contaminating your partner(s).
How to prevent and manage bad odors?
Whether or not you have bad vaginal odor, here are tips and advice for preventing and managing bad odor.
The causes of bad vaginal odor can be linked to different causes, internal or external, and it will never be possible to anticipate everything (don't beat yourself up if you are affected!). However, you can limit the risks.
Have good intimate hygiene
We talked about it a little earlier in this article. It is essential to have good intimate hygiene to avoid destabilizing your vaginal flora. This goes through :
Wash your vulva daily: using water is enough, but you can use a mild intimate soap if you prefer for sensorial reasons.
🌈 On our shop, you will find the gentle intimate cleansing gel from the Jho brand : we love it because it does not destabilize the pH of your flora.
🌈And for a feeling of freshness, look to Wumi: the intimate cleansing gel with Aloe vera is perfect;
Change your washcloth and towel regularly: If you use a washcloth to clean your vulva, change it regularly. The same goes for your towels. Like sponges, gloves and towels are breeding grounds for bacteria and by trying to clean yourself you unfortunately risk making the problem worse;
Do not douche: this practice of putting water directly into your vagina is particularly aggressive. It risks unbalancing your vaginal flora and making the problem worse;
Wipe from front to back: When you go to the toilet, always wipe from front to back, from your vulva towards your anus. This will prevent you from bringing bad bacteria back into your vagina;
Rebalance your vaginal flora with probiotics
You know about probiotics to rebalance your intestinal flora. Well know that there are also probiotics for your vaginal flora! They help you restore balance when it is occasionally disrupted.
🌈In store, we recommend the natural probiotic anti-mycosis and cystitis treatment from the Dijo brand. This two-month treatment (60 capsules) supports you and helps you restore your vaginal imbalance.
🌈We also offer you, on our shop, the rebalancing intimate gel from the MiYé brand. Rich in probiotics, it has a soothing effect on your vulva and a rebalancing effect thanks to the probiotics it contains.
Keeping your private parts dry
When your genitals are in contact with damp material (dirty sanitary towel, perspiration, etc.), there is a greater risk of developing fungi (vaginal candidiasis). To limit this risk:
- Change your sanitary protection regularly;
- Opt for hygienic protection that keeps you “dry”;
- Opt for non-tight underwear made from fluid materials, such as linen. This will allow your vulva to “breathe”.
Limit hair removal
Society has taught us the opposite and yet: hair is clean (provided you wash it regularly, of course). Pubic hair protects our private parts and blocks some of the external bacteria. To limit infections and diseases, it is therefore interesting to avoid, or at least limit, full hair removal.
Have protected sex
This may seem obvious to you but we prefer to repeat it: protect yourself with a condom when you have sex with non-regular/non-exclusive partners. A condom is the only protection against STIs and STDs and this will allow you to limit the risks.
🌈 In store, we like the ultra-thin latex condoms from the My lubie brand. Vegan and odorless, they allow you to enjoy without worrying about anything other than pleasure!
Do you think you have a bad smell from your vagina? The first step is to consult a healthcare professional , especially if you have other symptoms. This will allow you to have a medical answer to your problem. At the same time, you can implement solutions to manage bad odors.
Protecting your underwear
If your discharge is smelly, we can only recommend using panty liners: this will allow you to change regularly and feel better. Take them organic to prevent the chemicals contained in conventional panty liners from further unbalancing your vaginal flora.
For a fresh feeling, you can use wipes to dry yourself after going to the toilet. However, choose fragrance-free wipes. If perfume can give you the impression that you are fresher, it will tend to unbalance your vaginal flora...
And during intercourse?
Are you planning to have sex but feel uncomfortable because of the odors coming from your vagina?
First of all, know that you are not obliged to have sex at this time: the person you are with does not have to force you and you are not even obliged to explain to him why... it's up to you see where you are in your relationship and in discussions around these intimate subjects to know if you want to talk about it or not.
Then, if you want to maintain a sex life despite your current worries, there are several solutions:
- Take a shower just before sex: you will feel fresher and this can help you to forget;
- Practice in the shower, in the bath: who said you have to be in bed to do this kind of thing? ;)
Suggest other practices:
Sexuality is not just about vaginal penetration… suggest other things!