For a lot of us, it’s hard to say those words together aloud without feeling shameful or embarrassed (because, you know, patriarchy and the male gaze).
But opening up the conversation about it is important. Vaginal discharge is normal, it’s natural, and it’s a wonderfully supportive tool for understanding hormonal patterns, vaginal pH, and overall vaginal health. Discharge is essentially your vagina’s way of communicating to you how it’s feeling and what it might need; think of understanding healthy discharge patterns and vaginal pH like you’re learning your vagina’s language, and by knowing even just the basics, you can figure out what it’s asking for. And knowledge, after all, is power.
Vaginal discharge is a broad term that really means any non-menstrual fluid that exits your vagina, though is mostly made up of cervical fluid, a compound produced by uterine cells. It’s critical for helping pregnancy occur; healthy cervical fluid helps sperm, at the right time, swim past the cervix and into the uterus. Thus, vaginal discharge shifts to reflect where people with vaginas are at in hormonal cycles and fertility patterns.
Due to rising and falling estrogen levels, cervical fluid changes in look, consistency, and smell throughout the different cycle phases. Here’s a brief overview of what to expect:
•Menstruation: There is no cervical fluid at this time, since your uterus is in the process of shedding.
•Follicular Phase: You’ll likely notice that your discharge levels are quite low, if there at all. This is normal!
•Close to/at Ovulation: Discharge should first feel tacky, then should become increasingly creamier and more opaque. Normal color for discharge at this point ranges between white and a light yellow-ish. At ovulation, you will notice discharge become clearer and wetter, even watery.
•Luteal Phase: Post-ovulation, vaginal discharge will once again be dry and barely-there as your body prepares for menstruation.
As for smell, vaginal discharge usually has some kind of mild, musky scent. It’s distinctive, but it’s not unpleasant. If you notice any unpleasant smells- sour, metallic, fishy- or things just smell noticeably different, it’s probably a sign that you need to address your vaginal health.
On that note, color outside the norm might include shades of gray, greens and brighter yellows, and brown. Noticeable changes in consistency (too much, too little) are also important to pay attention to. It might be a bit more obvious, but any itching and discomfort is another signal that something is off with your hormones and/or pH.
Vaginal pH is heavily impacted by the health of your vaginal microbiome. It might sound a little bizarre, but your vagina is a bacterial ecosystem, where millions upon millions of benevolent microbes are working together to maintain an optimal environment. These microbes help to create an environment where they can thrive, and this means an environment with a balanced pH; harsh soaps and douching can be disruptive, as can not drinking enough water and lacking nutritional variety in the food you eat. Eating a diverse diet that works for your body helps to keep your microbes happy, and consider working probiotics (good bacteria!) into your diet if you don’t already. Team sauerkraut for vaginal balance! You might also consider a natural probiotic wash as another way to rebalance, nourish, and fortify your microbiome down south; while the vagina is a self-cleaning system, the vulva (the outermost part of female genitals) is not. If you’re feeling itchy, uncomfortable, or just want something non-disruptive to wash with when you need to, a gentle, topical boost of friendly bacteria is a great ally.
Let this be your gentle reminder: vaginal discharge is not a “gross” taboo. Vaginas are complex systems, like all of the other pieces and parts of our bodies, and learning its language- discharge- is one of many ways that people with vaginas can be empowered in their reproductive health. Vaginal discharge. Say it loud, say it proud, and know that by joining the conversation, you’re an active part of ending the stigma, and you’re also helping to spread valuable information to those who need it.
This article is by Maggie Harrison-- a rural Pennsylvania-raised, currently New Orleans-based writer and creative whose work covers everything from wellness to social media to grief and loss. Head to her website to learn more about her work, or follow along on Instagram or Twitter.
Watch our first-ever Lady Chats: In Charge of Your Discharge
We’re here to undo the taboo around the topic of Vaginal Discharge. Lady Suite’s own Kristi Vance + Olivia Martinez chat with Pennsylvania-raised, New Orleans-based writer, Maggie Harrison, who penned the article above.
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