A vagina is never odor-free but what is a 'normal' smell for a vagina? Find out!

Smelly panties

A vagina is never odor-free. It is completely normal for your vagina to have a natural scent that is individual to you.

First, it is important to understand what is a 'normal' smell for a vagina.

Your vagina is a carefully balanced ecosystem and will normally be host to a community of 'good' bacteria. One of the main bacteria is called Lactobacillus, similar to the type found in 'live' yogurts. In return for its home, Lactobacillus generates lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This keeps the vagina's pᵸ at an optimal range of 3.5-4.5. These acidic conditions act as a disinfectant and discourage less welcome bacteria from causing infections. It is these natural bacteria that can contribute to a vagina's natural scent.

Factors that may affect a vagina's smell, without meaning that there is something wrong with your hygiene or vaginal health include:

Exercise and sex

During exercise and sex, it is normal for the genitals to get sweaty and this may contribute to a more prominent vaginal odor.

If you have noticed a strong vaginal odor after sex that is more than can be attributed to sweaty genitals, it's possible you could have an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV occurs when the balance in that all-important vaginal ecosystem is disturbed, allowing a bacterium called Gardnerella vaginosis to thrive. The infection causes a thin, grey discharge with a fishy odor that is more pungent when in contact with semen. Your GP can help diagnose this and administer treatment.

Semen or 'cum'

Semen or 'cum' is normally a white or grey colored fluid that carries the sperm. It has a mild chlorine-like smell due to alkaline substances. With sexually transmitted infections, it is possible for the semen to change color to yellow or green and it can smell offensive. This means semen could be a potential cause of a bad vaginal odor after sex.

After a male has ejaculated into the vagina, most semen will either seep out or dry up. It certainly won't 'rot' inside you. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, and any remaining semen will exit the body via a women's discharge. Sperm can survive for a maximum of five days inside the vagina.

Hormonal changes

Vaginal odor may vary in response to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and menopause.


Hormonal treatment such as the contraceptive pill and antihistamines can dry the vagina out and change its odor.


Mainly anecdotal evidence has suggested that vaginal odor may change with certain foods, such as garlic, onions and strong spices.

Other causes of an abnormal vaginal odor, particularly if accompanied by symptoms such as an itchy or irritated vagina or a change in discharge, may require investigating with your GP. Potential causes include: 

➧ Poor hygiene.
➧ Sexually transmitted infections.
➧ A forgotten tampon.
➧ Thrush infection.
➧ Rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal connection between the vagina and the rectum, most commonly due to bowel problems like inflammatory bowel disease, childbirth-related injuries, cancer or cancer treatments such as radiotherapy).
➧ Vaginal and cervical cancer.

How to get rid of the vaginal odor? Read on to find out!

We are often bombarded with adverts for feminine hygiene products encouraging you to keep your vagina clean and smelling like flowers. This can send damaging messages to women that the vagina is unhygienic and needs regular cleaning. Both are nonsense.

Your vagina is self-cleaning, and using feminine hygiene products can affect your natural microbiome, leaving you more susceptible to infections (and accompanying bad odors). A recent study demonstrated that women using feminine hygiene products or douches were more likely to have BV, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections and UTIs.

Avoid all the expensive (and sometimes harmful) products and simply adhere to the following advice to keep your vaginal healthy:

⏩Wipe front to back when going to the loo.
⏩Wash your external genitals with water or a mild soap when in the shower.
⏩Avoid harsh or irritant soaps.
⏩Don't douche.
⏩Wear loose-fitting, breathable cotton underwear.
⏩When menstruating, change tampons and sanitary pads every few hours.
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