Vaginal Odor

What's Living "Down There?"

Vaginal secretions contain several million bacteria per millimeter. Dr. Lisa explains how an imbalance of healthy versus unhealthy bacteria can lead to a condition called bacterial vaginosis.

If you've ever noticed an unpleasant odor after intercourse with your partner, it may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis.

"This is pretty common," OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson says. "It's called bacterial vaginosis. You should not have a fishy odor down there. What happens is that the magical vaginal ecosystem is imbalanced. This can happen because of pregnancy. This can happen because of having intercourse."

The vagina tends to be acidic, and when semen enters the vaginal cavity, it can change the pH. "That changes [the environment] and releases something called amines, which give off a fishy odor."

One in five women will get bacterial vaginosis at some point during pregnancy. The disorder can cause pre-term labor, miscarriage, low birth weight and a premature rupture of membranes. "So it is essential that it be treated during pregnancy," Dr. Lisa stresses. "Your doctor will just do a vaginal swab to determine this and treat you with safe antibiotics for pregnancy, and that's the end of it."

Tips to Minimize Odor

Wear breathable, cotton underwear.
Groom the pubic region.
Avoid clothing that is too tight.
Shower after exercising or sweating.
After a shower, dry off thoroughly before putting on clothes.

Even if you don't have bacterial vaginosis, it's not uncommon to experience a not-so-fresh feeling down below.

While some women may feel douching cleans them up "down there," it actually may change the acidity of the vagina and promote the growth of bacteria and yeast infections. It may even increase sexually transmitted diseases by disrupting the vagina's natural defense system.

"The vagina is a self-cleaning oven," Dr. Lisa says. "You do not, absolutely do not, need to douche.
All of us women are worried about odors down there, and that’s very, very real. We want to smell fresh. Every woman thinks it’s supposed to have this perfumey odor, when, in fact, it really shouldn’t smell like anything.”

In addition to douching, women should avoid perfume-scented tampons, because they contain chemicals that can upset the natural balance of the vagina.

Foul odor in the vaginal area is often due to an infection, explains urologist Dr. Jennifer Berman. Keeping the area clean by washing with soap and water daily is essential, but hygiene is not always enough.


Dr. Berman displays WaterWorks, the only product approved by the United States Food and Drug Administration to get rid of vaginal odor. Tap water flows through a stainless steel nozzle, which helps reduce unwanted odors without harsh chemicals or perfume cover-ups. The water flows downhill, as opposed to douching, which propels fluid upwards. The nozzle is placed in the vagina, and the steel and water come in contact with the wall of the vagina, eliminating foul smells by flushing out odor-causing bacteria.

Foods, such as garlic, onion and asparagus, can also cause vaginal odor, while sweet-smelling fruits, such as pineapple, have been known to freshen things down below.



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