factors that affect vagina smell

Sex and Smell: Things that Can Affect Your vagina’s Scent

fact checked

This article was scientifically reviewed by Human Sexuality expert Dr. Laurie Mintz. She is a professor, researcher, private practitioner and Fellow of the American Psychological Association.

When you combine two (or more) sweatin’ and gruntin’ people doing sexual things to each other, there is bound to be some funky smells filling up the room. HOWEVER, much of that smell is emanating from your genitals, because – while we are not saying that they stink – they most certainly do give off a scent.

Talking specifically about vaginas, its natural smell should be “a mild, musky scent that is not unpleasant.” However, there are times when one’s natural balance can be upset, causing one’s vagina to give off an odor that is outside of what you consider to be your normal scent. There can be due to a number of common – and easily remedied – reasons, such as:

A New Partner

Say what you will about people, they sure are full of it: Ideas, hopes, dreams, emotions, thoughts – and chemicals. You have your own unique chemical makeup, and so do each of your partners. The fluids we secrete, like vaginal fluid or semen, give off smells and when mixed, make an altogether new odor. 

Vaginal fluid in particular is acidic on the pH scale, while semen is slightly alkaline. Mixing these acids and alkalis greatly affects the chemical makeup of the interior of a vagina, and will most definitely change its scent. If the new partner also has a vagina, then mixing vaginal fluids (and thus each partner’s unique pH balance) can also affect your personal pH scale.

In fact, throwing off the pH balance of your vagina is a very common cause of a change in odor, and can be thrown out of whack for any number of reasons. Even when the new partner also has a vagina, the exchange of vaginal fluids will change your vagina’s natural pH, leading to it perhaps giving off an unfamiliar smell after sex.

A quick note here: one way that fluids can be exchanged from one vagina to another would be by sharing sex toys without cleaning them (e.g., using the same toy on one another during a sexual encounter). We feel the need to point out that this should be avoided as much as possible. You can share them of course, but only after cleaning your sex toys.

Your Vaginal pH is Off

Balance that can be thrown off for any number of reasons aside from intimacy with a new partner. For instance, where you’re at in your menstrual cycle can cause your pH to fluctuate. Otherwise it could be thrown off due to a new medication, especially hormonal birth control.

What You Eat

Women say what they eat affects their vaginal odor. They say, overdoing it on the garlic or onions, for example, can leave them with a different scent down there, as can eating asparagus or drinking one too many alcoholic beverages.

Are You… Unclean?

Not to say you’re going feral and unwashed, but having sex after strenuous physical activity (like a post-gym or mid-hike sexual session) can make things pretty funky down there. Like the rest of your body, your vagina also has sweat glands. When this sweat mixes with a partner’s sweat, fluids and skin cells, and you’ll really be itching (figuratively – and maybe literally) to hit the showers after that particular bit of exercise.

Of course, having sex very soon after a previous sex session (usually without thorough cleaning during the in-between) can result in an infection, be it a yeast infection, or bacterial vaginosis – otherwise known as BV.

However, when we talk about unclean – we do not mean douching! This is BAD for your vaginal health. Just wash externally with warm water and/or unscented soap.  Do not put anything in your vagina to clean it– it is self-cleaning!

Beware of Infection

When it comes to yeast infections, your vagina already contains a small amount of yeast, as well as bacteria and a fungus called candida albicans. There are times when this balance gets thrown out of whack, usually by wearing damp clothes or being damp for extended periods of time in your groin area (undergoing a round of antibiotics can also disrupt the balance). The increase in the amount of candida in your vagina will not only be uncomfortable, but will affect the way you smell down there. 

Luckily, a yeast infection is easily treated with over-the-counter remedies that are readily available and very effective at clearing up the issue. However, if the medication or treatment for your yeast infection isn’t working, it will be time to see a doctor as you likely have a bigger problem: bacterial vaginosis.

Bacterial vaginosis occurs during a bacterial overgrowth within the vagina, which results in many of the same symptoms as a yeast infection. However, because vaginosis is bacterial, not fungal, yeast infection treatments won’t alleviate the symptoms which include discomfort, burning sensations while you pee, and an intense ‘fishy’ odor. When you suspect that bacterial vaginosis is the cause of your vaginal woes, it’s time to see your doctor, who can tell you the next course of action.

In short, your vagina has natural discharge and an odor and is self-cleaning. Get to know your own scent and discharge so if it is funky, you can see a doctor!

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