“Is this normal?”
Something they don’t teach in health class is hygiene. Sure, they teach you about the menstrual cycle, but not how that affects your specific smell all month! Most adolescents are self-conscious, scared of sticking out, and too weirded out to discuss those things with teachers and parents. It doesn’t help if you hang around boys who make jokes about women smelling like “fish” or “hot garbage water” — especially when it’s from boys who most likely have never seen one in real life!
By adulthood, every woman should know what their “normal” scent is. A lot of us get that after period stank or whiffs of an infection… but we also should know what is normal down there! Unfortunately, there are lots of women are still self-conscious that their bits have a distinct smell at all!
So what’s the deal with the way our crotches smell? Here’s a handy guide.
Are the women who have unrealistic expectations about their vaginal scent a result of the patriarchy that doesn’t believe women poop, shouldn’t fart, and anything above a size six is “fat”? Sara Gottfried, M.D. — the founder and medical director of The Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Oakland, California — thinks so. She explains her thinking in her book The Hormone Cure:
“There’s so much shame around the normal range of what women smell like. I think of the advances we’ve made with women’s rights and the benefits we’ve had from the women’s movement, but we’re also still stuck with this mindset that women are expected to be nice, pretty and for their lady parts to smell really good, like some fake scent. Like you’re going to smell like a gardenia. And that’s just going to make you miserable because that’s not the normal human scent.” (from YouBeauty)
While we shouldn’t be ashamed with what our underwear smells like, it is a good idea to keep an eye (and a nostril) on it for health reasons.
What causes the smell?
Every vagina is different, so every vagina has its own unique scent. What creates your unique fragrance? A mixture of good bacteria, pheromones, what you eat, the material of your clothing, how often (and how well) you clean, the way you wipe, and the secretions that your genitals produce.
“The vagina shouldn’t smell like rotten fish or anything rotting… The odor folks [describe] is from bacterial vaginosis, which is really an imbalance of good guy and bad guy bacteria (the bad guys are the anaerobic bacteria which tend to be overgrowing, and anaerobes classically produce a foul or rotting type odor),” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D. — a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University School of Medicine — explained to YourTango.
That tail end of the period odor? According to Taraneh Shirazian, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the NYU Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health it’s all natural, too! “When you’re bleeding, you retain moisture in the vagina, which can lead to secondary vaginal infections like bacterial vaginosis, which has a strong, fishy odor,” she explained to Refinery29.
For the record, BV is extremely common and often gets mistaken for a yeast infection. BV can go away on it’s own or be treated with meds.
Wash and Wear
If you often have strong odors, considering purchasing a gentle “feminine” wash that is free of SLS and perfume (SLS can dry you out and the perfume could irritate your vulva). They are readily available at the drugstore or online. Make sure to gently rub the folds between your inner and outer labia — and, for the love of god, do never, ever wipe back to front.
Additionally, wearing breathable cotton underwear helps as it absorbs sweat and odor better and helps your privates “breathe.” And, of course, we’ve all heard it before, but it bears repeating: NEVER DOUCHE. Douching could cause infections all the way up in your uterus.
The big take-away here, though, it that vaginas are self-cleaning! That discharge in the crotch of your panties is the bad stuff coming out. It contains bad bacteria and germs and it’s good that it’s there. Normal discharge should be white or off-white. If the color is looking different, book an appointment with your gyno.
Can’t wait? You can also buy pH papers and a vaginal screening kit at the drugstore if you want to make sure your vagina is pH balanced or to see if you have an infection before heading out to the doctors.
Don’t forget to SHARE this article with your friends to remind them to love their lady-bits!
Original by Chewy Boese