Let’s face it, we all get a little sweaty while working out — and yes, that includes your vagina and vulva. Engaging in a legs-together workout, such as running, tends to cause the most amount of sweat in your groin and vaginal area — so it’s no wonder women experience this persistent problem.
While vaginal wetness and odor can be slightly embarrassing as you workout elbow-to-elbow with other people, the reality is, it’s just physiology. Here’s what’s going on and how to deal with it.
Sweat glands and vaginal sweating/odor
According to the Mayo Clinic, your skin has two main types of sweat glands: eccrine glands and apocrine glands. Eccrine glands appear over most of your body and open directly onto the surface of the skin. Apocrine glands, on the other hand, develop in areas abundant in hair follicles such as your armpits and groin, and they empty into the hair follicle just before it opens onto the skin surface.
And while the eccrine glands produce the most moisture, it’s the apocrine glands (prominent in the groin area) that produce the odor you detect after a strenuous exercise session.
Dealing with and preventing odor is one thing, but making sure your groin area stays dry is essential to avoid yeast infections. When the sweat does not get a chance to breathe, as is the case when you wear poor-quality workout clothes or remaining in them for too long after exercising, the skin stays wet and traps in the moisture. And this is a perfect breeding ground for yeast to grow.
In addition to yeast infections, women also have to be aware of developing a urinary tract infection. Wiping yourself from front to back prevents bacteria from spreading from the anal region to the vagina/urethra, which increases your risk for contracting an uncomfortable UTI, something we all want to avoid.
Tips to minimize sweat and odor
The best thing you can do is to keep your groin area as dry as possible, and one of the best ways to do that is to change out of your sweaty clothes as soon as possible after exercising.
Invest in some quality workout underwear
It might seem crazy to spend $15 to $18 on one pair of underwear, but splurging on specially designed sweat-wicking workout underwear makes a big difference in the fight against vaginal sweat. And while you’re at it, spending a few extra dollars on some quality sweat-wicking workout pants adds another layer of protection from extra sweat and smells.
While it’s tempting to run a few errands after your workout, if you are experiencing persistent vaginal odor, it’s best to hop in the shower immediately following a workout and bathe with warm water and a mild soap.
Avoid panty liners
While it might be tempting to put down a layer of protection to soak up the sweat, using a panty liner as a barrier between your body and underwear will only increase the odds of vaginal irritation and odor.
Douching is never necessary — there are plenty of other ways to clean up down there.
The bottom line is that groin sweat is natural and normal for everyone, but if it’s something that’s bothering you, there are ways to handle it.
A version of this story was published in February 2019.