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5 Causes of feminine odor

Whitney Coy is a freelance writer and editor based in Columbus, OH, where she lives with her husband and two daughters. She writes frequently for SheKnows, as well as several other websites. She writes on topics including parenting, trav...

Find the cause and fix it

Most women experience feminine issues from time to time. Unfortunately, the fact that they're common doesn’t make them any less embarrassing. Feminine odor is especially frustrating, because it can leave you feeling unclean and gross, even if that’s not the case. There are lots of causes for feminine odor, but here are the top five culprits.

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Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) sounds like a big scary term, but it’s actually very common. In fact, BV is the most common cause of vaginal odor, according to the Mayo Clinic.

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Every vagina is filled with naturally occurring bacteria, and BV is simply an overgrowth of that bacteria. According to Mary M. Galenberg, M.D., OB-GYN for the Mayo Clinic, most women in their reproductive years will experience at least one case of BV. The cause is unknown, but unprotected sex and frequent douching can put you at a higher risk. Other symptoms include itching, soreness and discharge.

Some cases of BV will go away on their own, but Planned Parenthood recommends that all women with BV symptoms visit their doctor for treatment to prevent rare but serious complications. Treatment for BV is usually as simple as a course of antibiotics.

Yeast infection

A yeast infection is also very common (and very uncomfortable!). They present much like BV, with the addition of a thick, white discharge. Yeast infections don’t require antibiotics and instead can be treated with one- or three-course vaginal anti-fungal treatments. Your doctor may also recommend a one-time oral anti-fungal treatment.

Symptoms of a yeast infection

Treatment for yeast infections has become very simple and can even be purchased over-the-counter. Most of these treatments tend to get messy, so it’s better to use them overnight.

Galenberg recommends you visit your doctor if you are experiencing these symptoms but have never been diagnosed with a yeast infection, as well as if treatment doesn’t resolve the symptoms or you get four or more infections in one year.

Sexually transmitted diseases

Some STDs can cause feminine odor, the most common being chlamydia and gonorrhea. Both diseases are common and easy to treat, but can cause serious complications if they go untreated. Unfortunately, both are also often undiagnosed because they may or may not produce symptoms. The most common symptoms of chlamydia and gonorrhea include painful urination and puss-like discharge, although an unpleasant odor is often present as well. See your doctor immediately if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and avoid risk by abstaining or using protection during sex.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) occurs when bacteria (usually sexually transmitted) travel through the vagina into the uterus. It is often a late-stage result of an undiagnosed STD, such as chlamydia. PID usually isn’t diagnosed until you experience chronic pain or have trouble getting pregnant because it often doesn’t have symptoms. If symptoms of PID do present, they may include pelvic pain, odor, heavy discharge, fever, fatigue, painful intercourse or painful urination.

PID can often be treated with antibiotics, though it may leave behind scar tissue that has lasting effects. According to Galenberg, lasting effects might include chronic pain, infertility or ectopic pregnancies.

Poor feminine hygiene

It’s possible that the cause for your feminine odor may be nothing more than poor hygiene. We’ve got a lot of complicated parts down there, and caring for them isn’t always easy. Make sure you’re covering all your bases to keep your lady parts fresh and clean.

First and foremost, make sure you’re washing thoroughly every day. Women have oil and sweat glands in the vaginal area that, while completely natural, can cause odor if not attended to. Use mild, fragrance-free soaps, because anything else can upset that sensitive area and lead to even more troubles. Make sure you wipe from front to back after using the restroom and wear clean underwear every day, even if you don’t have time to shower.

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There are a lot of products out there that claim to help with odor and keep our parts “presentable,” but stay away from them. Douches, sprays, cloths and creams all claim to help women achieve some sort of super-cleanliness, but they actually cause more problems than they solve. Douches remove some of the bacteria that work to keep your vagina healthy, and scented products have been known to cause irritation.

Quick Tip

Wear underwear with a cotton crotch. It'll wick moisture away from your body and keep you dry, which will help stop odor.

More help with feminine issues from SheKnows

Women's health issues no one talks about
10 Questions women are embarrassed to ask their doctor
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5 Embarrassing sexual health issues

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