What Your Vagina is Trying to Tell You

Ladies, let's face it. Vaginal discharge is something we all have to deal with, yet it’s hardly ever discussed. Yes, maybe it’s too personal a topic to be chatting with your family or friends about. “Hey Ashley! Guess what? My discharge was yellow today!” Although it may not be a great conversation starter, the color, consistency, and odor of your discharge is actually really important, from helping to identify an infection to telling us when we are ovulating. Let’s stop ignoring our discharge-stained underwear and get right down to addressing it. 

 

Color 

Vaginal discharge is not only completely normal, but it’s actually essential for several functions of the vagina. Discharge ensures the vagina is clean and moist, while also helping to prevent infections. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, the color of your discharge will vary. Typically, a “normal” vaginal discharge color ranges from clear to milky-white. Pure white discharge may point to a yeast infection, especially if the discharge is clumpy, similar to the consistency of cottage cheese. 

You may also see red discharge, which is more often than not a result of bleeding during your period. According to Medical News Today, red discharge is nothing to be concerned about if you’re on your period, but please check with a doctor if you are seeing red discharge between menstrual cycles, as this can often indicate a serious condition. 

Dark yellow or green discharge can signal a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection. Gray discharge is seriously unhealthy, often a sign of bacterial vaginosis which requires antibiotics to remedy. Lastly, pink or light red discharge is usually a result of spotting before your period, but can also be due to implantation bleeding of early pregnancy. Make sure to take a pregnancy test if you are unsure of whether or not you are pregnant. Some women also notice brown-ish looking discharge right after their period. This is simply old blood that the vagina is clearing out. 

 

sliced fruit on pink background Photo by Deon Black from Pexels

Consistency 

Like color, the consistency of your discharge varies during your menstrual cycle. Sutter Health notes that heavy, thick discharge is common at the beginning of the menstrual cycle while stretchy, almost mucus-like discharge, also known as “fertile” discharge, is seen during ovulation. Healthy discharge may also appear watery at some points in the menstrual cycle. It totally depends on each woman. However, your discharge should not be clumpy like cottage cheese. This is often an indication of an infection, especially if itching is involved. So remember: discharge like cottage cheese = I need a doctor’s expertise.

 

fingers on melon Photo by Dainis Graveris from Pexels

Odor

Beyond color and consistency, the odor and amount of discharge can tell you a lot about what’s going on inside your body.  For example, you will notice more discharge when you are ovulating, when you are sexually aroused, after exercise, with birth control pill use, and sometimes when you have an infection. According to Healthline, normal discharge is said to be “odorless,” but in reality, I think we all know that isn’t 100% true. The different smells produced by vaginal discharge are simply the result of varying pH levels in our vaginas, which are home to billions of bacteria. When the bacterial ecosystem in the vagina changes, so does its smell. Not to mention that we are prone to sweat in the pubic region. 

However, there are some smells you should look out for. A fishy vaginal smell is most often due to bacterial infections or trichomoniasis, a common STI that is completely treatable. A bleachy odor, similar to the smell of ammonia, may be due to urine or bacterial vaginosis, so make sure to watch out for that chemical-like smell. Finally, and most importantly, if you notice a rotten, decaying-like vaginal discharge smell, you probably forgot to take out your tampon. Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a practicing OBGYN for over 40 years, says you would actually be surprised by the number of women who leave their tampons in for days or even weeks at a time. So, it's nothing to be ashamed of, but how about we set up a calendar reminder just in case?

 

Okay, so now you know all about vaginal discharge. That’s really good news. You can finally start listening to what your body is trying to tell you. Help out a friend and spread your knowledge. This is really important stuff, so don’t let the patriarchy tell you otherwise.