What’s Your Vagina Supposed to Smell Like?

Few things make women feel more insecure than wondering whether they smell fresh down there, especially as a guy is about to give pleasure of the oral variety. As he wanders south, it’s one thing to realize that you haven’t gotten a wax in a while—something the guy you’re with isn’t likely to notice in the dark. But if you’re feeling vulnerable and stressing about whether you’re emitting a funky odor, you can pretty much bet that the mood is ruined. The sad fact is that so many women are self-conscious about their vaginal scent when there’s really nothing to be embarrassed about. “I think women have unrealistic expectations about their scent that are similar to the unrealistic expectations we have about body size,” said Sara Gottfried, M.D., founder and medical director of The Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Oakland, Calif., and author of The Hormone Cure. She continued:

“There’s so much shame around the normal range of what women smell like. I think of the advances we’ve made with women’s rights and the benefits we’ve had from the women’s movement, but we’re also still stuck with this mindset that women are expected to be nice, pretty and for their lady parts to smell really good, like some fake scent. Like you’re going to smell like a gardenia. And that’s just going to make you miserable because that’s not the normal human scent.”

READ MORE: 5 Sex Positions That Boost Emotional Intimacy 

The thing is, vaginas aren’t supposed to smell like fragrant flowers — despite the plethora of products marketed to women that may convince you that the scent of a rose garden should be wafting from your private parts at all times. On the other hand, vaginas aren’t supposed to smell “fishy” either (that mean barb that boys lob at girls to make them feel bad in junior high school).What’s normal appears to be somewhere in between those two extremes. Some women have no vaginal scent whatsoever, while others have a slight scent that isn’t unpleasant. What’s more, your scent can change over the course of the month. The key is to know what’s normal for you—so you’ll know there’s nothing to worry about, as well as when there’s a health problem at play.

READ MORE: 9 Tips to Give the Perfect Blow Job 

What Influences Your Scent

Everything from having sex and working out to where you are in your menstrual cycle can influence your below-the-belt aroma.“There are certain times during the menstrual cycle when you are more likely to have a change in the scent,” noted Dr. Gottfried. “Many women notice after having their periods that there is a different odor. That scent relates to the pH in the vagina.”Normally, the pH of the vagina is below 4.7—that means it’s naturally on the acidic side of the scale. But when you have your period or have sex, that alters your vaginal pH. For example, menstrual blood has a pH of 7.4, according to Gottfried, which is basic, so it causes your vaginal pH to rise and become less acidic. “That can also give you a change of scent that can make it smell a little fishy,” she says. “Also, when air hits menstrual blood, it has a particular scent to it.”Adds Gottfried: “A lot of women notice a change in the scent after having sex. Semen is really basic—it has a pH of around 8—so when you have sex it changes the pH in the vagina to the basic side of things.”

READ MORE: Why Women Have Orgasms 

How to Check Your Vagina’s pH 

Curious about what your own vagina’s pH level is? You can test it at home. “Get pH papers, which cost about eight bucks, at your local drugstore,” suggested Gottfried. “You can use these pH papers to see if your vagina has a pH of 4 today—if so, you’re good.” Or you can buy a ready-made kit, such as Vagisil Screening Kit ($17.49). To test your vaginal pH, hold a piece of pH paper against the wall of your vagina for a few seconds, then compare the color that appears on the pH paper to the color on the chart that comes with the test kit. Find the color on the chart that best matches the color on the pH paper. The number on the chart that corresponds to the matching color is your vaginal pH number.If your pH levels are less acidic than they should be (higher than 4.7) or you suspect you have a vaginal infection, such as an itchy yeast infection, you can try some tricks to bring things back into balance. First, use yogurt. Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., author of The Yale Guide to Women’s Reproductive Health: From Menarche to Menopause, recommended soaking a tampon in plain yogurt that contains live lactobacillus cultures (it needs to say this on the label), aka the good guys. Noted Dr. Minkin: “Are the [good bacterial] strains in the yogurt slightly different than the strains in the vagina? Yes, they are. But they can help. Any kind of lactobacilli is probably going to help you, and it’s cheaper than medication. The yogurt is very soothing, and it may help get rid of your infection.”If the yogurt doesn’t help or if the thought of inserting a tampon doused with yogurt grosses you out (we understand), you can try  (also on Amazon)—an over-the-counter vaginal gel that helps your vagina maintain a balanced pH when used once every three days. If both the yogurt and RepHresh don’t improve the situation, see your gyno for an evaluation.

READ MORE: 5 Hidden Causes of Yeast Infections 

Telltale Signs of an Odor-Inducing Problem

Can’t tell whether your vaginal scent is normal or indicates a problem? Check your underwear. “The main signals [of infection] are a substantially increased discharge,” noted Gottfried. “White discharge, maybe a little yellow, that I can live with. But when it’s grey and combined with an intense fishy odor that you can smell across the room or if the discharge is neon green or yellow—that’s not good. If [your vagina is] itchy or you have pain, those are also signs of something abnormal.”When a vagina’s pH balance is thrown off—namely, when there’s an increase in bad bacteria and a decrease in the amount of good bacteria—that can lead to infections, including yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis (or BV). While yeast infections don’t usually affect vaginal scent, BV certainly does. BV, which is the most common vaginal infection in women of childbearing age, can be triggered by having sex with a new partner or by douching—both of which can throw off the vagina’s delicate bacterial balance. The result? A strong, fishy odor, especially post-coital, and white or grey discharge. Some women also experience burning during urination and itching around the outside of the vagina (the vulva) with BV, which makes it easy to mistake it for a yeast infection. In some cases, BV disappears on its own, but it’s smart to get checked out by your gynecologist, who can prescribe antibiotics to send BV and its embarrassing odor packing.Another type of vaginal infection that’s associated with a foul odor is trichomoniasis, or trich. “It’s along the lines of a stinky fish smell like BV, but it’s worse,” explains Minkin, “and it’s associated with a yellowish or greenish discharge.” The STD, which is caused by an infection with a parasite, is sexually transmitted and treatable with a single dose of prescription antibiotics. To prevent passing the infection back and forth, “if you’re diagnosed with trich, you should make sure every one of your partners gets treated,” recommends Dr. Minkin.

READ MORE: On Dating With Herpes 

How to Keep Your Vagina Clean and Balanced 

Here’s the good news: You don’t need to do much. “The vagina is a self-cleaning oven,” explained Gottfried — meaning, it naturally excretes discharge that escorts germs and bacteria out of your body. So the vagina does a bang up job of keeping itself clean without your needing to intervene, thank you very much.In fact, problems arise when you interfere with a perfectly good system—namely, by douching (a no-no). Douching messes with the vagina’s delicate balance of bacteria, according to Minkin. “Lactobacilli are the good guys—you want an acidic vagina,” she says. “If you start douching out those guys, you’re being counterproductive. You may be getting rid of the bad guys but also the good guys, which are helping to protect you. ”Douching also propels bacteria in the wrong direction. “You don’t want to send secretions, full of bacteria, in the opposite direction with douching,” notes Gottfried. Douching predisposes you to develop bacterial vaginosis and that stinky fish odor you were trying to avoid in the first place. What’s more, douching is also associated with some serious health issues, including an increased risk of cervical cancer and pelvic inflammatory disease. Got all that?

READ MORE: Do Your Labia Look Normal? 

And skip the talc if you think that’s your ticket to absorbing odor and wetness: Research suggests that talc increases the risk of invasive ovarian cancer.In general, when it comes to cleaning the outside of your vagina, some warm water and gentle soap, such as Dove White or Neutrogena soap, does the job, according to Minkin. “The less soap, the better,” she says.If you’ve just come from a sweaty session at the gym (or between the sheets) and want to freshen up externally, or if you’re on the go and don’t have time to shower, you can use a pH-balanced, alcohol-free wipe, such as  (also on Amazon).

And finally, steer clear of synthetic underwear, which can make you sweat and traps in odor. Instead, Gottfried suggests opting for cotton panties, which gives your hard-working vagina some much-appreciated breathing room.

READ MORE: What Do You Call Your Vagina?

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  • Emma Davis

    Nice read Thank you, I have had a personal experience that I would like to share with you here so that others who are in some situations may find it helpful.I have suffered form vaginal odor for very long until one day my best friend told me something I should try. Her solution was so simple that I completely did not believe her! I thought for a moment that she might be mocking me. She must have seen my disbelief, because she went on to explain that it was an ages-old remedy with an astounding success rate.So, I went ahead and tried it. And since that day I haven’t had any vaginal odor or Bacterial Vaginosis problem.

    • Goddess™

      Well, damn you didn’t even say what the hell it was!

      • Lisa Olson

        Hi Goddess,
        You can click on her name and follow the link you find in her profile. I personally went on and tired her suggestions,and it worked great. The results were unbelievably good and it only took 3 days.

        • MF


      • AJ King

        it’s a spam post. complete bull

    • rachel

      What was her solution?

      • AJ King

        it was a spam post. trying to get you to buy something

  • jrc

    surely you don’t want it to be stanky.

    • CaeruleaTigris

      There’s a difference between unhealthy vagina smells and healthy vagina smells and if you think that healthy vagina smells are “stanky” then have fun with the health problem that will arise from you trying to fix that :).

  • Priscilla Torres

    So I used to have this problem that every time I’ve had sex my vag smelled strongly of “fish”. But when ever I wasn’t having sexual intercourse it didn’t have a smell at all. My boyfriend used to make me feel bad saying that it was me but in reality it was him because we would have unprotected sex and the smell was my fluids reacting with the semen. So if it does smell strongly of fish after sexual intercourse, it may just be your boyfriend lmao

    • kofybean

      Your bf may have been cheating on you and his p was just transferring dirty bacteria your way.

  • samantha leach

    I am very glad i found this site. I am in high school and i am very insecure about my self. I have a friend and she told me that hers smells like “cupcakes” and tastes like “figi water” anf when i told her that her vagina is always going to have a distinc smell she looked at me and told me i must have a smelly vagina.. i am very relieved i have finaly read vaginas arnt suppose to smell good. I am more confident and am happy to be a women again.

    • capone

      This post did not say vaginas are not supposed to smell good. It says it doesn’t smell like flowers. And ur friend was odee lying. Maybe figi water but cupcakes.

  • Aisha

    As long as it’s not smelling like old dead mackrel or shit then it’s cool. Real talk lol.

  • The new cleavage

    You girls create these threads just to lie to yourselves to make you feel better, because this sexist world we live in tells us we’re not allowed to tell the truth if it might offend you or sway you from a promiscuous lifestyle.

    • Jade Mcnagger

      I bet your dick smells like rotting cheese and your balls like spoilt mayonnaise. Slut shaming is stupid unless your going to,equally share that shame with men as well. And it really shouldn’t matter how many sexual partners a woman has, if her sex life is wild and consistent with one guy it shouldn’t matter if it’s with multiple guys either the size won’t change. My God you little boys are dumb, And I’m really hoping that you’re not a woman becasue then that would make you even dumber.

  • The new cleavage

    Your cooters get darker because you shave them and they are constantly rubbing against your panties all day. Continual razor use also does that, mens faces do the same thing. Why must you create stories to dodge any blame and act like it’s natural? You also have been rubbing on different things and playing with it since you were young so of course the skin will eventually get a little thicker and change colors according to your skin tone. Just look at your knuckles. Skins a little thicker there and that’s the color your vaginas will be as you’re rough with them. As for the lips… You’re just unlucky. Like the guys with little dicks. But the size of your gaper 100% will change with sex. You sluts are pathetically lying to yourselves if you don’t believe that. It’s been proven multiple times in my life and most other guys too. I mean yall lie about everything so it’s not really a surprise. What’s wrong? Nothing… How many guys have you had sex with? 3. Just some liars.

    • MF

      Everything you say is insane. My vagina has never changed in appearance, and my partner and I have sex daily. If your vagina is getting darker from sex, you must be having some weird-ass sex, my friend. Also, “slut” is a really comical word. You sound like you are from the 50s.

      • The new cleavage

        I’m the insane one? Read the first sentence again you stupid flapper

        • Becca

          Flapper? Slut? Incell?

      • The new cleavage

        And I also never said your appearance would change. I said you were unlucky if you were born with big inner labia just like a guy with a little dick is unlucky. Hoe you need to learn how to read you look stupid.

    • Becca

      My vaginal lips and area look quite nice and I’ve had lots of sex and oral sex. I’m a true blonde and only have a tiny patch of very light hair about 1.5 x 1.5 inches. My vaginal lips (I don’t have a cooter, whatever that is) have never darkened. I don’t think you’re exactly the voice of reason or experience. As a matter of fact, you sound unreasonable, inexperienced, unfuckable, and really old. You want to judge women? Better believe we know why you have these opinions. And it’s not experience… It’s the lack of experience. Jealous much?

  • The new cleavage


  • The new cleavage

    Stop deleting my posts because I am saving these girls from embarrassment and being single and used up when they’re 30

    • MF

      You are an idiot

      • The new cleavage

        Used up ^

  • MF

    My vagina has never in my life smelled of fish. I have never understood that descriptor. The weird thing it sort of smells like is vaguely like pencil shavings. Sometimes almost a savoury chicken smell.

  • Nicole_E

    I’m 16 and i have been very self-concious about the way i smell down there no I don’t smell like fish, it doesn’t really stink and i know because it’s on me i’m going to smell it better than other people.. People have layed between my legs and haven’t ever said anything. I shower everyday and its like a scent i can’t really describ. I know shaving would cut down the odor because hair traps moisture and scents. My discharge is normal, kinda clearish and sticky, so i’m pretty positive I don’t have any infections it’s just a mental thing and self-conciuous thing because everyone claims that their vagina smell like this food or that food and taste like this or that and it gives me unrealistic expectaions about my scent and some days its stronger mainly right before my period and after but no one smells it so its only something i have to deal with . Is it normal to feel this way about your scent.?

  • May

    I’m confused with my smell, so I shower ever other day, and I’ll wash down there and after it smells fine, but the next day it’ll smell like fish. I do have a lot of discharge, but it’s not grey or yellow. Is there something wrong? Or am I doing something wrong? I don’t really know. Perhaps if I started using wipe’s when I go to the bathroom that’ll help.

  • sumeiya hamdan

    hi,have got a problem my vigina smells nd am producing some mucus whitish colour like. please help me what to do about it.

  • —–

    I need some help. Last night my boyfriend was going to eat me out. I asked him why he didn’t and I told him to be completely honest. He said it smelled too bad so I just insisted it was okay and it was because my period is starting soon. And that’s true(that my period is starting soon) but idk how to fix it so he will eat me out. I had also eaten spicy food last night and was sweating prior to that. Could that also be a factor? What can I do to alter the smell?

    • Chari Chamberlain

      Doctor visit for you both

  • kofybean

    “…the advances we’ve made with women’s rights and the benefits we’ve had from the women’s movement, but we’re also still stuck with this mindset that women are expected to be nice, pretty and for their lady parts to smell really good…”

    lol @ women who think equality smells like rotten shrimp. There are women out there whose lady parts don’t leave your face and fingers smelling like you want to vomit. Always wanted to know why, I will remind myself, as I’m taking my 3rd shower to smell normal again, that it is just my unrealistic expectation.

  • catherine

    What you eat and drink has a lot to do with your smell too. A diet rich in strawberries and other fruits adds estrogen and gives the vagina a sweet and vanilla flavor naturally and keeps a moist environment after menopause. Eat healthy.