Vaginal Odors: Types & Causes

Contrary to what advertisers for feminine hygiene and douching products may tell you, your vagina shouldn’t smell like fragrant flowers or be odorless. Vaginal odor is natural for every healthy woman and there’s a perfectly good explanation for this odor. Like the gut microbiome that we’ve all been hearing so much about, the vagina too has its own microbiome. The balance of bacteria and yeast that are part of the microbiome will give it some amount of odor. Under normal circumstances, you are most likely to have a musty andsmelly vaginabecause of the acidicvagina phlevel. However, it will not be astrong smellthat is overwhelming or foul. A sudden change in the odor or a distinctive odor could be indicative of health conditions like bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, or urinary tract infections .

Here are some types along with thevaginal smell causesbehind them-


If the odor of your vagina is extremely unpleasant and you have a pain in your lower abdomen, a fever, or discomfort while having sex, it is possible that you could be suffering from a pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). This is often caused bysexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia, when the sketchy bacteria move from the vagina or cervix into the uterus and other reproductive organs .

If the disease is left untreated, it can lead to infertility and chronic pain. Complications can be easily avoided with prescription antibiotics and goodgenital areahygiene. If you see any of the above-mentioned symptoms, seek medical treatment promptly


A strong, foul,fishy odor is another common sign of infection. If the odor gets stronger right after sex or is accompanied by a discharge, it could bebacterial vaginosis – a condition marked by an overgrowth of bacteria that alters the vagina’s pH balance. In cases where you notice green discharge, itching and pain while peeing, there’s a possibility of having trichomoniasis – a common STD. Luckily, both conditions can be cured with timely medical intervention.Thisbad vaginal smellcould also be a cause of Trichomoniasis. This is another very common form ofsexually transmitted infection STI.It is caused by a one-celled protozoan called the Trichomonas vaginalis. The smell tends to be stronger than the one during bacterial vaginosis. However, this infection is easily curable with amedical advice diagnosisof antibiotics from a doctor.


Some females complain of getting a metallic, almost coppery smell from their vagina. This is usually not a cause for worry and it rarely turns out to be a dangerous problem. There may be two reasons for this smell.The first is blood. Blood consists of iron that has a metallic smell. Your vagina undergoes themenstrual cycleduring which blood and tissue sheds from the uterine lining. The smell may be an effect of the presence of blood in the vaginal canal even after it stops bleeding. Another reason for this metallic smelly vaginamay be light bleeding caused due to sex. Vaginal dryness ir vigorous sex may cause slight bleeding from scrapes or cuts. When the vagina comes in contact with semen, a change in pH level occurs which may also be the cause of a metallic smell. You can prevent this by using lubricants, thus preventing the odor. However, if the metallic smell lingers in your vagina for too long after period is over, you must see the doctor.


When you see thick, cottage cheese-like discharge with a faint odor, redness or burning around the vagina, or pain after peeing, yeast infection is the most likely cause.

This is particularly common among diabetic women as yeast feed on sugar, and diabetic women tend to have more glucose in their vaginal secretions. Seek help from your doctor if you notice any of these signs accompanied by discomfort. .

Skunky Odor

The vagina sometimes may smell like the rest of your body. Although this may seem unnatural and may be the source of worry for some of you, you can relax. The body consists of two types of sweat glands- apocrine and eccrine. While the eccrine produces sweat to cool down the body, the apocrine produces swear as a response to emotional stress. These apocrine glands are found in the armpits as well as the genital area. Around the vagina, these glands also produce a milky fluid as a response to stress. Although this fluid is odorless, when it comes in contact with the bacteria present on your vulva, it may give rise to a pungent smell. it is quite natural and common for your vagina to smell the same as your sweaty body when you are anxious or stressed out.


This is definitely the most concerning of all vaginal odors. The cause of a rotten vaginal odor could be due to aforgotten tampon that’s left in the vagina for a prolonged period of time. The scent is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in a confined space.

If not dealt with appropriately, the bacteria can sometimes (rarely) trigger toxic shock syndrome. If you want to knowhow to prevent vaginal odour,and know your tampons have been in there for more than eight hours, or you cannot remember the last time you changed it, and if you have corresponding flu-like symptoms – you must see a doctor without further delay.


If your vaginal odor or urine smells bleachy or like ammonia, but there is no discomfort or discharge, you probably have nothing to worry about. The reason for the bleachy odor could be condoms or lubricants that you may have recently used. The smell, generally, fades away on its own. If it lingers for more than a day, you should consult your ob-gyn.

Tangy or Fermented

If you get a fermented or tangy smell from your vagina, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. This is one of the most common smells that are found among women of almost every age. The vagina, as we know, is home to a large group of bacteria and is dominated by the Lactobacilli which protects the vagina against bad bacteria. It has high pH acidic levels (ranging between 3.8 and 4.5) due to which it has a naturally occuring tangy smell. Try imagining the smell of fermented foods like yogurt or sour bread. These also consist of good bacteria that make them healthy.


When we say sweet we don’t mean a sweet floral fragrance. We mean not so unpleasant, mild, earthy, and robust. A sweetish tinge is no cause for concern. In fact, it means you have a healthy vagina.

Apart from the reasons mentioned above, you must consult the doctor immediately if the odor is accompanied by one or more of the following-

  • Pain
  • Itching or burning
  • Pain during sex
  • Thick white discharge for a prolonged period
  • Bleeding from the vagina unrelated to your period

Sometimes, a change in the smell of your vagina or in the vaginal discharge is quite common in most women. With the help of its high pH levels, vagina has self-cleaning or cleansing properties that allows it to keep away bad bacteria. Again, not every woman’s vagina smells the same. The smell of your vagina depends upon its pH level. The pH levels may vary from one woman to another which in turn depends on various factors such as diet and overall body health. Your daily habits also have a direct impact on your vaginal pH levels which can also be one of the reasons why there is a subtle change. Please do not be alarmed at the slightest change that you see in your vagina. From penile vaginal sex to menopause, there is a long list of conditions that that give rise to these changes. Keep a check on these changes and in case you are unable to identify or understand it, consult your doctor as soon as possible.

While this should cover the most common odors, there may be some that we missed. In case you notice any change in vaginal odor or an odor that hasn’t been listed here, make it a point to consult your gynecologist immediately.

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