It’s a sad fact that vaginal discharge gets a bit of bad rep. It might not be the most welcome sight when you glance at a (formerly) fresh pair of underwear, but this discharge is proof that your vagina (and other intimate anatomy) is in good working order. So just what is ‘normal’ vaginal discharge, and how can you tell when something isn’t right down there?
Why do I have vaginal discharge?
In the same way that your tears wash out dust from your eyes, your vagina expels discharge to keep itself clean. Healthy discharge usually contains discarded skin cells, bacteria, mucus and fluid produced by the vagina and cervix. These excretions might be bit annoying, but it’s a sign that your vagina is cleaning itself. Better out than in!
The consistency of discharge varies from person to person, but it is usually white or clear and nearly odorless. The color and texture can vary depending on where you are in your cycle, particularly around ovulation. Depending on where you are in your monthly cycle, you might experience anything from a thick white discharge to nothing at all. Just remember that each body is different, and there are no hard and fast rules.
What’s really important to know is what’s normal for you and if you ever notice a change in the smell, color, consistency or amount – then it’s time to investigate. If this change is accompanied by any kind of pain, itching etc, then doubly so. The vagina is home to “good” bacteria, aka flora, which keep the vagina’s pH at a consistent level. Sometimes microorganisms can enter the vagina and disrupt this healthy flora, which is how infections can take hold.
What is your vagina trying to tell you?
Our bodies maintain a delicate natural balance, and sometimes the simplest thing can throw this balance off. If your discharge is out of the ordinary, it might be due to one of these 11 key factors:
1. Ovulation Women usually ovulate once during each menstrual cycle – usually about 14 days in. As you approach ovulation, your estrogen levels will spike and your vaginal fluid will become super sperm-friendly. Vaginal fluid at this time usually looks especially clear and stretchy, sort of like an egg white, while at the end of your cycle it tends to be thicker and whiter.
2. Dehydration If you’re feeling parched, then there’s a good chance you’re going to start feeling like a desert down below as well. Next time your discharge is a bit off, see if a big glass of good old H20 helps.
3. Sex Bear in mind that the slightest change to your vagina can easily disrupt your vaginal flora. If you’re having sex with a man, you should know that semen is slightly alkaline, and as the pH of the vagina is slightly acidic – this combination can easily throw your vaginal balance out of whack.
4. Emotional stress Only in recent years have scientists discovered just how much damage stress can inflict on your body. If your emotions are all over the place, then there’s a good chance your intimate anatomy will reflect this. Stress chemicals are known to overstimulate your uterus, cervix and ovaries.
5. Medication Some over the counter and prescription medication can often affect your body in a lot more ways than you might first think. Next time the sight of your underwear makes you feel a little more foul than fresh, have a look at any medication you’re taking and check the side effects. Antibiotics in particular have been known to wipe out both bad and good bacteria throughout the body, including the vagina.
6. Diet Alcohol, caffeine, sugar and other stomach irritants are known to upset your more than just your digestive system. So if your underwear is funky in a bad way, then take a close look at your diet and consider cutting back on some of those deliciously unhealthy treats – your vagina will thank you for it.
7. Perfumed Soaps Some of the ingredients in perfumed soap are infamous for messing with your pH and even irritating the delicate tissue of your vagina. Stick to pH balanced, unperfumed cleansers and only wash the outside (your vulva, not the vagina) – and never, ever douche!
8. Common Infections Sometimes the reason your vagina is out of sync can be a little trickier to diagnose. The following symptoms are signs that it’s time to schedule a visit with your doc. If you notice a change, don’t jump to conclusions, but keep these telltale symptoms in mind and see your doctor if you have any concerns.
9. Yeast Infection aka Thrush This unpleasant yet very common ailment will affect 3/4 women at some point in their lives. Symptoms of thrush include lumpy cottage cheese discharge and a sour, yeasty smell. This infection is very similar to other infections, so don’t just run to the pharmacy – make sure to check with your doctor that you’re treating the right infection. Which brings us to…
10. Bacterial Vaginosis aka BV Symptoms include a white/grey or thin/watery fluid, often accompanied by a “fishy” smell. BV symptoms are extremely similar to yeast infections, so it’s worth visiting your doctor to make sure that you’re getting the correct treatment.
11. STI Another common reason for an unhappy vagina is an STI. The majority of STIs are actually very treatable, but it’s imperative you get diagnosed by your physician. Any pain or bleeding is a sign something could be up – so be safe and look out for the signs.
Be happy and healthy!
Even though it might be a bit of a pest sometimes, discharge is completely normal – and it’s a crucial part of a healthy, functioning vagina. So our main advice for taking care of your vagina? More often than not – leave it well alone. Your vagina is amazingly efficient at cleaning itself, and it really doesn’t need much help. Pay attention to your discharge, look out for these common warning signs, and if your vagina is trying to tell you something – listen!
Please note that advice offered by Tips For Healthy Living may not be relevant to your individual case. For specific concerns regarding your health, always consult your physician or other licensed medical practitioners.