Think of vaginal discharge as a barometer of vaginal health. Understanding what colors, scents, and textures are normal (or abnormal) will help you stay more informed about your sexual health and wellness. So stick around as we debunk some myths and explore the meaning behind different types of vaginal discharge.
But First...a Word on Shame
Let’s get one thing straight. Your vulva isn’t dirty! Most of us have been exposed to unrealistic ideas about femininity from movies, porn, and TV. While the media tends to paint the picture that desirable women should be scentless and hairless (down there), this limiting view of beauty is completely detached from reality and doesn’t help anybody.
Newsflash: Vulvas are allowed to exist. They are incredibly complex and host a delicate ecosystem of bacterial flora. Plus, vaginal odor and discharge can be influenced by a number of factors including what you eat, your lifestyle, and what you wear. While certain types of odors and discharge could be symptoms of a broader medical issue (we’ll discuss that later), simply having vaginal odor and discharge doesn’t automatically mean something is wrong. Your body is unique, and so is your vulva’s look, scent, and discharge.
We know that shaking off the pressures of today’s beauty standards is no small task and that the road to self-love can be a long one. But our goal is to help you get closer to self-acceptance by demystifying vaginal discharge.
What Is Vaginal Discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a combination of fluid, bacteria, and cells that leave the body through the vagina. Cleveland Clinic describes typical vaginal discharge as “a clear, white or off-white fluid” produced by the uterus, cervix, and vagina. It plays an important role in combating infections and harmful bacteria, promoting vaginal lubrication, and helping the vagina self-clean.
While it’s completely normal for different people to experience varying amounts of vaginal discharge, sudden changes in the color, texture, or scent of your vaginal discharge could be a sign of a medical issue. So, like with all aspects of your body, it’s important to be aware of what your normal vaginal discharge looks and smells like. That way, you’re more prepared to have an informed conversation with your doctor if you notice any sudden or unusual changes.
What Does It Mean?
Odds are you know what it’s like to stare down into your underwear and wonder, “what does this discharge mean?” When it comes to deciphering the meaning behind vaginal discharge, it’s important to consider a few key elements. Let’s take a look at what different colors, odors, and textures of vaginal discharge could mean.
Colors & Textures
Here’s a quick guide on what different colors and textures of vaginal discharge could suggest about your vaginal and reproductive health. This list isn’t all-encompassing, and changes in vaginal discharge could indicate a wide variety of different conditions. That’s why it’s important to seek medical attention if you notice any irregular changes.
- Yellow, gray, or green: These colors could indicate a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
- Pink: Light red or pinkish colors could be a sign of vaginal irritation, cervical bleeding, or implantation bleeding from pregnancy.
- Dark red or brown: Colors like reds and browns are typically related to irregular menstruation or cervical bleeding.
- Thick and clear/white: Discharge that’s thicker than usual and white or clear is a typical sign of a yeast infection.
- Watery and clear/white: Sexual arousal or pregnancy are common reasons behind watery and clearish discharge.
- Stretchy and clear/white: Many people experience stretchy clear or white discharge when ovulation occurs.
- Cloudy: If your discharge appears cloudier than usual, this could be a sign of ovulation, vaginal infection, or pregnancy.
Let’s talk about scent. The following is a quick list of common reasons behind varying vaginal odors. Similarly to the color and texture of vaginal discharge, pay close attention and seek medical attention if you notice an unusual change in your vaginal odor. The factors that influence vaginal odor vary from person to person. So when in doubt, reach out to your doctor.
- Musky: A musky smell can be perfectly normal. This scent usually comes from sweat and discharge within your underwear.
- Fishy: Vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis (BV) are a common cause of fishy-smelling discharge.
- Chemical: Discharge that smells like chemicals or ammonia can occur with bacterial vaginosis (BV). However, more common causes of this scent include dehydration, as well as certain lubricants and spermicides.
- Metallic: The most likely culprit for metallic-smelling discharge is menstruation. Changes in vaginal pH levels can lead to this copper-like smell during your period.
When To See Your Doctor
At this point, you’re probably wondering what changes in vaginal discharge warrant a trip to the doctor’s office. In short, any sudden change is worth taking a closer look at. If your normal discharge takes on a new scent, color, or texture, you can always reach out to your doctor with questions or for an in-person consultation.
When it comes to vaginal health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Depending on your symptoms, changes in vaginal discharge could be signs of a variety of conditions or infections. A few of the factors that can bring on changes in vaginal discharge include:
- Antibiotics or steroids
- Yeast Infection
- Trichomoniasis (trich)
- Cervical cancer
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This list doesn’t cover all the possible causes of changes in vaginal discharge. But, knowing what signs and symptoms to watch out for is always a smart move. Remember that your body is unique, and so your happy and healthy vagina may be different than someone else’s. What matters most is that you understand your body, and can flag any irritation, pain, or unusual changes in vaginal discharge to your doctor. So kudos to you for taking the steps to educate yourself and advocate for your own reproductive health.