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April 13, 2021 • read
What is a “normal” colour for vaginal discharge?
No matter how open you are with your girlfriends, you’re probably not discussing your vaginal discharge. Chances are, you didn’t learn about it in health class either. So it’s little wonder that many women don’t know what normal vaginal discharge should look like. The good news is that it’s not too hard to figure out. Here’s everything you need to know about vaginal discharge.
What should vaginal discharge look like?
This seems like a straightforward question, but it’s not. Vaginal discharge varies depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Between the end of one period and the start of the next, your vaginal discharge can range from white and creamy, to clear and slippery, like an egg white. It can also vary in amount depending on a host of other factors — like if you’re pregnant or menopausal, for example.
What shouldn’t vaginal discharge look like?
While your vaginal discharge can range from clear, to white, to a little on the yellower side, other colours should never be part of the equation. If your vaginal discharge is grey or green, or if it’s pink and you’re not on your period, you should see a healthcare provider. Any of these can signal bacterial vaginosis, or something more serious like a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In some cases, a change in menstruation can be a sign of cancer.
What is a normal smell for vaginal discharge?
Everyone has their own unique odour, and not just when you forget deodorant. From our heads to our feet and everything in between, our body emits its own scents, and your vagina is no exception. Because of this, it can be hard to say what a “normal” vagina smells like. On top of that, certain spices and foods — hello asparagus — can also affect the smell. But if you notice a strong smell coming from your vagina, or a new odour that wasn’t previously there, it’s important to get it checked out. Sudden changes in odour can signal a problem.
When should I see a doctor about my vaginal discharge?
In addition to grey, green, or pink discharge, there are some other non-negotiable reasons to see a doctor when it comes to your vagina. If your vaginal discharge is thick, white, and looks like cottage cheese, has a new smell, or if you have much more discharge than usual, it’s a good idea to see a healthcare provider to figure out what’s going on.
Even if your discharge hasn’t changed, any changes to your genitals also need to be investigated. If there’s pain when you pee, when you have sex, or if your vagina just hurts, you need to see a doctor. Moreover, if you experience any itching or redness, or notice any lumps, bumps, or sores, you should see your doctor ASAP to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Tracking your fertility with cervical mucus
Because the opacity and consistency of cervical fluid shifts depending on where you are in your cycle, some women monitor it as a way to track their fertility — either as a means of increasing their chances of getting pregnant or as a way to stave off pregnancy. If you’re looking to get pregnant, tracking your cervical mucus can be an additional tool in your toolbox. As a method of birth control, however, it’s really imprecise. Even if you aren’t ovulating when you have sex, sperm can live in the human body for up to six days, potentially fertilizing your egg almost a week later. If you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, make sure to use a more reliable method of birth control, like a condom, the pill, or both.
What should I do to keep my vagina healthy?
For starters, don’t douche. Your vagina is its own ecosystem, complete with its own proprietary set of bacteria and a specific, slightly acidic pH. Douching messes with your body’s natural vaginal secretions, and can throw the whole region out of whack. This increases your chances of getting bacterial vaginosis (BV) and may also increase your risk of contracting an STI. Instead, use a mild soap and water to wash the outside of your genitals and make sure to rinse well.
Moreover, avoid wearing wet clothing or bathing suits for prolonged periods of time. Change pads or tampons frequently, wipe from front to back, and wear cotton underwear whenever possible. And while peeing after sex might sound like weird advice, it’s actually a great way to flush any bacteria out of the urethra that may have gotten in during sex, which can help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs). But the single best thing you can do for vaginal health? Practice safe sex by using a condom.
Vaginal discharge is an important part of your overall physical health. While some day-to-day fluctuation can be expected, big changes in your vaginal discharge aren’t normal. If you notice sudden shifts in colour, odour, or amount of discharge, speak with a healthcare provider right away. Embarrassment should never trump health.