For the longest time, I have wondered what causes vaginal odor. I believe that knowing the root causes can better direct more effective methods to get rid of vaginal odors.
So what causes vaginal odor?
Here is a list of 58 plausible reasons in 9 broad categories - Diet, Lifestyle, Clothing Choices, Choice of Sanitary Protection, Activities, Personal Hygiene habits, Bodily/Medical Conditions, Pregnancy and Menopause.
Considered yourself warned. You may be surprised at some of the possible causes!
1. Not Drinking Enough Water
The body is made up of 65 percent water, and the water helps with blood circulation, waste removal, detoxification and metabolism.
Without enough water, toxins stay within our body and do not get flushed out in time.
2. Sugary Food
Alas, our holy grail for happiness comes with a cost.
Food with high sugar content (my sweets and cupcakes....) feeds the bad bacteria and yeasts, leading to potential overgrowth.
One of our greatest culprit of vagina odor, yeast, absolutely loves sugar, warmth and moisture.
3. Eating A High Simple Carb Diet
The high level of simple/refined carbohydrates can trigger inflammation in our body and also disrupt the floral balance of your vagina.
Studies shown that eating excessive carbohydrate causes the body to ferment copious amount of bad bacteria in the digestive system and vagina.
In addition, carbohydrate raises our blood sugar which provides a thriving environment for bad bacteria.
4. Pungent Foods
Rule of thumb is that whatever food that causes bad breath, they will likely cause your vajayjay to smell too.
Thankfully, the smell is temporarily and they will go off after a few days. Can't imagine a life without onions and garlic in my cooking.
Not only do they cause your urine to smell, they can turn your fanny smelly. Like onion and garlic, the smell goes away after a few days.
6. High Protein, Low Carb Diet
Eating a high protein, low carbohydrate diet can result in a metabolic process called ketosis. Some people report a sickly sweet smell in their urine, which can stick around.
Overindulging in alcohol, leading to a condition called ketoacidosis which is similar to reason 6. In addition, alcohol is very dehydrating. It can mess up your floral system with its dryness.
8. Caffeine Addiction
While it is a diuretic, drinking too much coffee can result in coffee smelling urine, which can result in unpleasant vaginal odors for many.
Like alcohol, caffeine causes dehydration which can cause disrupt down there. Caffeine can also trigger stress in some people, which could leave you more susceptible to an infection.
9. Nutritional Supplements
Taking nutritional supplements like vitamin B2 which may result in strong smelling urine and vagina odor (and a crazy fluorescent yellow hue in the urine).
This is due to the essential component, choline, which is found in many B-complex vitamins and multivitamins. Fishy body odor may occur when one takes too much choline. So do take note of the recommended dosage if you are taking vitamin B supplements.
According to Linus Pauling Institute, the recommended adequate intake for choline is 425 milligrams per day for women.
10. Eating Too Much Methyl-Mercaptan
Overdosing on foods high in methyl-mercaptan, like brussel sprouts, broccoli and cabbage.
When combined with organic sulfur compounds, urine ends up smelling bitter and unpleasant. This can result in very unpleasant vaginal odors.
11. Prolonged Exposure To High Stress-ors
When you are highly stressed up, your immunity takes a hit, and becomes more susceptible to infections.
Not only does stress disrupts menstrual cycle, it also affects the volume of vaginal discharge, which is often the first signs of something gone wrong.
12. Keeping Late Nights
Our body does not get a chance to rejuvenate properly when we continuously exhaust our body to keep late nights.
According to TCM principles, the best time to be asleep for optimal health is to be ready for bed by 10 pm.
13. Working Graveyard Shifts
The reversal of day and night whacks the body out of system, and immunity usually suffers from prolonged graveyard shifts work.
People generally become more susceptible to infections and exhibit sickness behavior.
14. Too Much Weights
Do you know you can have feminine odor if your work consists of lifting heavy weights/bags (laptops/ piles of files etc).
Even holding 5% of our body weight in our hands for prolonged periods can lead to uneven weight distribution on our lower abdomen, resulting in weak pelvic muscles. This can potentially lead to urinary incontinence and causes feminine odor.
15. Wearing High Heels
Wearing high heels causes misalignment of our body, putting unnecessary stress on our pelvis.
It can also result in weakening of our pelvic floor muscles, which can lead to incontinence. Leaky urine can worsen the ammonia smells of the vaginal odor.
Hot and humid weather can increase trapped heat and moisture between the legs.
If you live near the equator (like me), or experience summers that are hot and humid, you have higher risks of having unpleasant vaginal odor by virtue of your location.
17. On Birth Control
Birth control pills affects the hormonal cycle, and can lead to changes in normal vaginal discharge and odor.
Birth control devices, like the intrauterine device (IUD) increases risks of infection in the first two weeks of insertion.
Choices Of Clothing
18. Tight Pants
Wearing skinny jeans or tights causes vaginal odor too. While form fitting, tight clothing can restrict air flow between the legs, and can accentuate/worsen vaginal odor.
Wearing clothes that are too tight fitting can also worsen blood circulation and potentially chafe skin, resulting in inflammation. The skin around the vulva region is delicate and can be prone to chafing.
19. Changing And Washing
Not changing/washing your pants/underwear (gasp!) regularly can cause vaginal odor.
Being warm and moist, our vagina is the most wanted site to visit for foreign bacteria. To germs and bacteria, while unwashed used underwear and pants are wonderful environment, it is only for temporarily stay. Imagine them finding your thriving floral system.
Not airing pants that you have worn before and intend to wear again before washing is a bad idea.
The un-aired pants trap the nasty odor from before, and is a perfect breeding spot for bacteria. Double whammy of odors, if you may.
21. Throng Fanatics
It can be a problem if your underwear consist mainly of thongs. The problem with thongs is that the strip of cloth from the back to the front touches the anal region.
Bacteria can migrate from the anal region down to the vaginal through that tiny strip of cloth, increasing risk of infections.
22. Underwear Material
Fanny smelling can happen if uour underwear is made of material that does not breathe well.
Like polyester blends, synthetic leather etc. These materials are usually waterproof and does not allow moisture to escape. Poor ventilation and increased moisture equals to pungent vagina odor.
Wearing the right undies can help feminine odor.
23. Wearing Damp Underwear
If you tend to have heavy vaginal discharges, chances are, your underwear does not stay dry. Damp underwear can increase risks of bacterial infection and worsens vagina odor.
For some of us, wearing stockings is a part of work wear. However, due the material, stockings can irritate skin area around the vulva, and trap moisture if worn for long periods like 8 hours.
Choice of Sanitary Protection
25. Wearing Menstrual Pads/Tampons Beyond Recommended Timings
Usually 4 to 6 hrs is the max, lesser if flow is heavy. Our busy lifestyles and if there is limited bathroom access can sometimes delay appropriate changing.
This provides opportunity for bacteria to breed in the pads/tampons and invades our floral system.
26. Forgetting To Remove Your Tampons
Alas, it can happen. Sometimes, we can get so busy and go to sleep forgetting its existence due to tiredness.
Over the night, the build-up of menstrual blood & bacteria may result in itching, irritation, and smelly discharge.
Do visit a gynecologist if you are unable to remove the detached tampon and seek treatments for any possible infection.
27. Using Bleached Cotton
Choosing pads and tampons that are made with bleached cotton (very common!) is a big no no.
Our skin can be sensitive towards the material of the pads and tampons, resulting in inflammations and infections. The plastic backing of some badly made menstrual pads can also chafe skin easily.
28. Wearing Un-breathable Period Underwear
Period underwear often have waterproof PUL layers to prevent leaks, but when made poorly, can result in poor ventilation.
This in turn cause bacteria to breed quickly.
Increased blood circulation within the body, as well as perspiration can sometimes increase the muskiness of vaginal odor.
When we perspire, our apocrine sweat glands (found in our groin, scalp and armpit) secrete an oily fluid which is then metabolized by the bacteria on the skin. The byproduct leaves a strong musky odor.
The more sweat you have in this region, the worse the odor will be. Thus, a sweaty groin is a smelly groin.
30. Exercise Wearing Synthetic Materials
The smell can worsen if you wore tights/yoga pants made of synthetic materials that are not breathable.
This type of materials tend to trap moisture, creating an ideal breeding ground for bacteria and yeast.
31. After Sex
While our floral system is mainly acidic pH level, the semen of men is alkaline. As a result, the interaction between bodily fluids can result in off smelling odors after sex. The smell usually dissipates within 24 hours.
32. Lubricants/Sex toys/Condoms
The compounds in which the items are made can irritate skin, causing inflammation.
Oil based lubricants and latex condoms have been known to result in a bleach-like odor for people who have sensitive skin.
33. Unhygienic Sex Practices
Adopting various sex practices like oral to vaginal, anal to vaginal contact can increase risks of infections. With or without condoms.
Fecal material from the anus can get stuck within the folds of penis skin/fingers/condoms/whatever used, and cross contamination can occur.
If you really must, focus on one side per session.
Personal Hygiene Habits
34. Not Wiping Dry
It can be a problem if you do not have a habit of wiping dry after going to the toilet. The moisture gets trapped within the underwear, causing a humid environment, conducive for bacteria growth.
However, do be mindful of the tissue paper remnants around your fanny if you are using toilet papers that disintegrate easily.
Stuff like stray fiber from tampons, pieces of toilet paper or even condom left behind in the vagina can cause foul smelling odor.
Double and triple check!
36. Over-washing Of The Vagina
On its own, the vagina cleans itself inside your body with natural vaginal secretions
Too much washing actually disrupt our floral system. You know you have over-washed it when the area feels tender, or overstretched and tight.
Contrary to advertised claims, douching, while it may temporarily starve off the odor, has a more insidious impact.
Douching disrupts the delicate microbiota balance within the vagina, which can lead to inflammation and infections.
Professor Lamont, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, stated that, "I can't think of any circumstances where douches are helpful, because all they do is wash out everything that's in the vagina, including all the healthy bacteria"
38. Using Scented Soaps/Feminine Sprays.
The materials used for scents may irritate the delicate skin region of the vulva area, as well as disrupt the pH of the area.
When that happens, it can result in higher infection risks.
Washing with water and unscented soap should be all you need to keep your vagina healthy. All vaginas come with our own personal unique scent.
39. Using Scented Toilet Paper
Ditto above explanation. Can be worse if the toilet paper disintegrate easily and leaves residues.
39. Using Bath Sponges/Cloths To Clean The Vulva Area.
These bath sponges and cloths are magnets for bacteria/mold growth if not air dried properly. For additional insurance, put them under the sun.
40. You Tend To Sweat A Lot
Odors are usually more pronounce if you are naturally more prone to perspiration. Remember, a sweaty groin is a smelly groin.
Take more baths, change your clothes regularly and remember to wear breathable materials for your pants and underwear.
41. Cervical Erosion
This is a normal consequence of squamous epithelial cells growing out of the cervix, resulting in a inflamed area that looks eroded.
Scary name aside, it is actually a fairly common syndrome in women.
If asymptomatic, standard treatment is actually to leave it alone as the symptoms tend to disappear spontaneously. Usually the vaginal discharge is clear, cloudy or yellow, slippery, and without odor, unless there is an existing infection.
With the presence of infection, doctors may want to prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection.
42. You Have A Metabolic Illness
Diabetics often report off smelling vaginal odors due to the body’s ineffectiveness in metabolizing blood sugar.
A condition known as vaginal thrush (vulvovaginal candidiasis) can happen as glucose begins to secrete through urine due to high blood sugar levels. Thus increasing the likelihood of yeast infection.
43. Yeast Infection
Yeast infection happens when there is an overgrowth of the naturally occurring yeast in the vagina. Discharge is usually off white colored and smells yeasty.
44. Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial Vaginosis is due to the overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. Women with BV can often smell fishy/funky down there. Many of the points mentioned above are causes of BV. Do look out for them.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis can result in yellow green discharge and fishy/foul smelling odor.
46. Illnesses With Female Reproductive Organs
Illnesses with the female reproductive organs - such as fistulas, fibroids, or even cancers can often lead to the vagina smelling like something rotten.
47. Stress Urinary Incontinence
Stress Urinary incontinence. As we age, or when some women get pregnant, we may find our pelvic floor muscles weakening.
Simple acts like laughing or sneezing can cause urine leaks. The urine gets trapped in the underwear, and can end up smelling like ammonia.
Being overweight can affect hormonal levels and metabolism, as well as the normal functioning of the female reproductive system.
Many obese women report not having their menses regularly or even stopping altogether. That impacts on the vaginal environment and affects vaginal discharge flow and subsequently odor.
In addition, as heat gets trapped more easily in between the legs, the humidity can increase growth of bacteria causing odor. Chafing of skin between the legs is also more common, and that can result in inflammation and infections.
Being underweight can also result in offensive odors. When it is due to poor nutrition/diet, menstrual cycles may also be disrupted or even cease due to the lack of nutrition supporting the necessary hormonal metabolism. Skin can also become dry and rough.
50. Allergic To Condoms
There are all kind of allergies. There may be ingredients in the condoms that some women are allergic to. The reaction can cause havoc in the vaginal bacteria and result in bad odor.
Consider switching to different types of condom or even a latex-free variety.
For this cause, you should switch to the different types of condom for a few weeks to see if the unpleasant smell improves. This may take some trials and error.
51. Being Pregnant
Pregnant women tend to experience increased volume of discharge due to the hormonal upheaval. The increased volume can sometimes worsen vagina odor.
52. In Your First Trimester
Pregnant women, especially in their first trimester, tend to be more sensitive to smells. It may not be that the smell has worsened per se, but the person had simply just become more attuned to it.
53. Prone To Infections
Pregnant women are also more susceptible to infections like yeast infections and hence are more vulnerable to off smelling odors.
54. Taking Prenatal Supplements
Prenatal supplements may sometimes cause stronger vaginal odor as it contains strong smelling minerals such as iron and various vitamins.
55. In Your Third Trimester
Difficulty in cleaning genitals properly in the third trimester. With a humongous pregnant belly, it sometimes can be a challenge to reach down and clean properly.
In addition, increased frequency in toilet trips (because the bladder is so compressed by the uterus), especially in the middle of the night, may mean slip shod cleaning.
Upon reaching menopause, many women may experience dryness in their vagina. The dryness can cause inflammation of the skin due to chafing of skin within, resulting in unpleasant odors.
57. Depletion Of Estrogen
Due to the drop in estrogen levels, the vagina walls thin, and the environment becomes less acidic.
These changes provide a more conducive environment for potential bacterial overgrowth, leading to worsened odors.
58. Using Of Lubricants
Using lubricants due to dry vaginas can create odor. While it can relieve symptoms of dryness, people with sensitive skin may react badly with the components in lubricants, resulting in offensive odor.