Vaginal odor is any unpleasant odor that comes from the vagina. It's normal for your vagina to have its own unique smell, but a very strong odor may signal a problem. 

A healthy vagina's typical scent may best be described as "musky" or "fleshy". A menstrual cycle might cause a slightly "metallic" scent for a few days. Intercourse may change the smell temporarily. 

Your scent may change as you age or in response to certain stimuli. Some factors that temporarily change vaginal odor include:

-Ordinary sweating

-Sexual activity

-Menstrual cycle

Your vagina cleanses itself naturally. If you leave your vagina to its own devices, it can naturally maintain a healthy pH and keep unhealthy bacteria at bay.


-Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

This infection is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. Symptoms may include a strong, fishy odor and a thin, gray discharge. It is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15-44.

Not all women experience symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include:

A thick discharge, white or gray

A strong fishy smell, especially after sex or shower



A sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite can be a reason for vaginal odor. In addition to a strong vaginal odor, these may include:

  • Discomfort during urination
  • Unusual vaginal discharge
  • Itching
  • Burning 
  • Discomfort


A tampon left in a place for too long or forgotten to take it out or if one is stuck inside you can cause a very strong vaginal odor. 


Not bathing or showering regularly can lead to inflammation of the vaginal area, which can cause vaginal odor. If you don't wash your underwear daily, you will experience odor problems. 


The skin in the groin area is prone to sweat, which in turn causes vaginal odor. When sweat mingles with fluids in and around your vagina, your natural scent may change. The odor may grow stronger if you're sweating a lot, during warm months or exercise.


What you eat and drink influences the smell of urine, and vaginal odor. If your vagina smells off, foods with a strong odor, such as garlic, could be the cause.



Regular cleaning is important, but don't go too far. Wash the vagina with just warm water as vagina is intensely acidic, naturally killing bad bacteria. In fact, some soaps may make things worse, changing the environment in a way that leads to bacterial growth. 

Avoid perfumed soaps and deodorants. To wash the exterior folds of the vagina, use a gentle soap that won't alter pH levels.


Thongs and lace are not the best clothing choices for good feminine hygiene. Take particular care with what you wear to bed. Your vagina naturally releases moisture all the time. If the moisture can't escape because of clothes, the bacteria balance may be upset. This can cause odor and irritation. Wear breathable fabrics, especially underwear. Bamboo is the best choice, because it is breathable, sweat absorbant, odor-free and has antimicrobial properties which are great for sensitive skin. Avoid silk, satin, and polyester. 

-Change clothes and shower promptly after exercise.


Use condoms during sex to prevent the spread of STIs. Semen can irritate the vagina, producing smell or discharge. 


Often, a vaginal odor that requires a doctor’s visit will be accompanied by other vaginal symptoms. If you experience any of the following, schedule an appointment with a doctor:

  • Itching 
  • Burning
  • Discharge
  • Irritation or pain
  • Vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period
  • Thick cottage cheese discharge

In addition, if you smell a strong, fishy odor, you may have bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection) or trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted disease caused by a parasite). Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss antibiotic treatments to stop the infection.

Don’t be afraid to really get to know your vagina, in all its fragrant glory. The better you understand the smells your vagina produces day to day, the more prepared you’ll be when something goes amiss. After all, vaginas do so many wonderful things for us. It’s about time we start understanding what they’re really all about.


Related articles