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Feminine odor: What’s normal, what’s not

Feminine odor: It’s something most women have experienced, but don’t know much about. Read on to discover what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to hygiene down there.

Woman holding nose

Understanding feminine odor

Wondering what caused that funky stench? According to Dr. Lauren Streicher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical school, vaginal odor is generally caused by unbalanced feminine pH. She says common events such as menstruation, intercourse, douching and the use of certain body soaps all can cause this imbalance.

“For example, the pH of semen is between 7.1 and 8, so, when introduced to the vagina, an odor or itch can occur, usually the morning after having sex the evening before,” Dr. Streicher explained. “Lots of women douche to feel clean and fresh, but understand that water has a pH of 7, so while it might make you feel fresh for a short time, it won’t solve the problem.”

Dr. Sharon R. Thompson of Central Phoenix Obstetrics and Gynecology lists other items that can cause a disturbance in the vaginal balance:

  • Laundry detergents
  • Soaps
  • Pads/panty liners
  • Certain types of underwear
  • Latex condoms

“A woman who has frequent vaginal odor should assess her environment for potential irritants and make changes to eliminate them,” Dr. Thompson said.

Did you know?

“Some vaginal discharge is normal and the amount varies both with the menstrual cycle and individually.” — Alyssa Dweck, MD

How to avoid feminine odor

If you’re tired of dealing with unwanted feminine odors and infections, Dr. O’Connor suggests these basic hygiene practices:

  • Bathe regularly
  • Quickly change out of wet and/or sweaty clothing
  • Avoid the repeated use of tight, restrictive clothing

Do you douche?

When it comes to treating feminine odor, the doctors we interviewed all agreed on one thing: Don’t douche!

“Many of the products that are marketed specifically for the female genital area (e.g., feminine deodorants or feminine washes) can sometimes irritate and/or upset the normal pH balance, leading to irritations and infections,” Dr. O’Connor said. Instead, she suggests using a mild, unscented soap and water when bathing.

Scented soaps may smell divine but could potentially make your feminine odor issue worse in the long run. According to Dr. O’Connor, scented soaps and gels may contain perfumes and other ingredients that can irritate the delicate tissues in the genital area.

When to see a doctor

So how do you know when your feminine odor has crossed the line into something more harmful to your body? According to Dr. O’Connor, it’s important to watch for any rashes, itching or irritation, or a change in your normal vaginal discharge or odor. If you do notice any of those symptoms, Dr. O’Connor recommends seeing your doctor and getting evaluated.

More on women’s health

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Diet tips to prevent menstrual cramps
6 Simple tips for an easier period

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