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What's the Deal with Vaginal Odors And When to (Maybe) Worry

Diane Shipley

Posted on September 17 2018

It’s not something we tend to talk about with our friends, and many of us don’t even like to bring it up to our doctors, but vaginal odors are a part of life.

Pay attention to what’s normal for you, and if something’s ever a little off down there, you should be able to sniff it out.

Read on for our guide to what some of the most common vaginal odors mean, and what to do about each one – from “don’t worry” to “see a doctor straight away”…

Mild musk

It’s normal for your vagina to have a bit of a scent and there’s nothing you need to do about it, least of all douche or use one of those special vaginal washes – they’ve been linked to allergic reactions and increased chances of infection. If you exercise or just get really sweaty in the heat, you might notice the smell’s a little stronger, but a quick shower should sort it out.


This might make you panic (or wonder if you’re becoming some kind of human-robot hybrid) but it’s just the smell of period blood hitting the air and will be stronger depending on how heavy your period is and how long the blood’s been in your body. Choose cotton underwear and change your sanitary protection regularly and no one else should notice.

Bitter (or sweet)

The research on this so far is only anecdotal, but some women think their vaginas smell differently depending on what they eat, and that more fruit makes them smell sweeter, while cauliflower and asparagus have the opposite effect. If you find it’s an issue, see if adjusting your diet has any effect.


A distinct pong is usually a sign of infection. It could signal bacterial vaginosis (BV), an imbalance in vaginal bacteria that needs to be treated with antibiotics, or a sexually-transmitted infection like trichomoniasis, which comes with an eye-catching green, frothy discharge and also requires a prescription.


A little yeast is no big deal, but if you’re getting a strong whiff of bakery whenever you change your undies, you might have a yeast infection. You’ll probably also have intense itching and some discharge – usually white and lumpy. If it’s mild, an over-the-counter cream (or cream and pessary combo) should do the trick, but if it continues, see your doctor, so they can prescribe antifungals to clear it up.


Is it possible you got distracted while changing tampons and left one up there by mistake? It’s not common, but it happens, and the stench will be hard to ignore. If you can’t find it or you’re not sure, see your gyno to double-check, ASAP.


In rare cases, a horrible smell can be a sign of cancer, or just some abnormal cell changes, so it makes sense to see your doctor as soon as possible, and asking for a pap smear while you’re there.

If you notice an unusual smell alongside any discharge, heavier bleeding, sudden pelvic pain or a fever, there could be something more serious going on, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, and you need to see a doctor immediately.

In fact, with any smells or other symptoms you’re unsure of, it’s best to get checked out, even if it doesn’t seem serious. It might be a little embarrassing, but it will be a lot easier to treat if you don’t let it linger.

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