Despite what some manufacturers and celebrities would have you believe, a vagina is not supposed to smell like freesias, tulips, roses, or a freshly cut bouquet of spring flowers.
Every woman has her own ‘brand’ and no two vaginal scents are the same. Here’s why. A healthy vagina is home to millions of good bacteria and carries with it a slightly acidic pH between 3.8 to 4.5. This acidic environment actually helps to defend our delicate parts from the overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Ever worn dark undies and noticed what looks like a bleach stain on the inside of your panties? You guessed it, it’s from the slightly acidic pH of your vagina and is perfectly normal! Guys, it doesn’t mean she hasn’t washed her underwear or has leftover menstrual stains.
Vaginal pH is what gives us our own unique smell and the composition of vaginal bacteria can change daily, even hourly, which can result in changes in the way you smell on the regular. Hygiene habits, the food you consume, your menstrual cycle (menopause included) and that sweaty gym session can impact your vaginal scent. Our genital areas are full of sweat glands, so it is no wonder we don’t smell like those fresh baked cookies Granny used to make.
It’s not uncommon for your vagina to smell like a freshly poured Heineken, like a penny (if you are menstruating) and yes, it can even smell naturally sweet! Changes in smell are normal and natural and nothing to concern yourself with! But if you notice a foul odour emanating from your vagina or a change in your discharge this can sometimes signal an infection and a trip to your health care provider may be necessary.
So, what can affect this delicate balance that all vagina owners have? Douches, scented soaps, scented menstrual products, non-breathable undies, to name a few. All these products do is replace the good bacteria with the bad and in turn can lead to things such as Bacterial Vaginosis (BV for short). Even semen, spermicides and flavoured lube or condoms (stick to the flavoured kinds for oral sex) can upset the pH of the vagina!
As the vagina is self-cleaning, it can naturally maintain a healthy pH, which is why it is recommended that only lukewarm water be used to clean those inner parts—not the products which claim to leave you smelling like freshly picked daisies.
There are a number of ways you can prevent experiencing unusual vaginal smells:
• Good hygiene habits. Be sure to wash between your legs which will help to combat sweat. If you want to use a gentle unscented soap, do so, but only on your outer folds, not near the vaginal opening
• Ditch non-breathable undies. Use that sexy silk thong sparingly and stick to cotton panties that breathe. You can even go panty-less if you so dare!
• Add apple cider vinegar to a warm bath. The vinegar may actually naturally reduce the bad bacteria
• Consider adding some probiotic-rich food (e.g. yoghurt) to your diet, which can help to balance your vaginal pH
• If you are struggling to restore your vagina’s natural pH, there are over the counter pH products available that may be able to assist
Companies have certainly targeted younger people with promises of making their vaginas smell like a dozen roses and you only need to take a trip to the pharmacy to see how effective their marketing has been.
Vagina owners are more likely to compromise their vaginal health in their late teens and early 20s by using these products. My advice, if you see a product that advertises that inserting it will make your discharge or ejaculation sparkly, run, run fast in the opposite direction. I love me a fete and all, but I certainly don’t need my discharge looking like I’ve just spent the last 24 hours at one.
Embrace your ‘brand’! Vaginas are wondrous things and the better you get to know your vagina (smells included), the healthier the relationship you will have with it along the way!
Elisha Miller is a sex educator and Director of 5 Circles Bermuda, which provides modern and inclusive sex positive education and awareness through discussions, workshops and events. Follow 5 Circles Bermuda on Instagram