1. Your cycle
  2. Lifestyle
  3. Hygiene and beauty

Flo Fact-Checking Standards

Every piece of content at Flo Health adheres to the highest editorial standards for language, style, and medical accuracy. To learn what we do to deliver the best health and lifestyle insights to you, check out our content review principles.

Vaginal Smell: Everything You Need to Know

It’s completely normal for vaginas to have a smell. The smell differs from person to person. We’ll dive into the factors that influence your vaginal smell and explain what can change it.

Everyone has their own noticeable vaginal odor, even if they practice good hygiene. The smell is often considered to be similar to light fermented milk or musk. Despite the dominance of the bacteria Lactobacillus in most vaginal microbiomes, everyone’s vaginal microbiome is a little different. Moreover, the microbial profile of your vagina may change over time.

Researchers don’t yet know exactly how different factors affect the vaginal microbiota. However, they have identified some things that influence vaginal odor, including your period, sex, and using hormonal contraceptives.

For example, your vaginal odor can change after you have sex if your vagina comes in contact with sperm. This is because the normal pH of the vagina is less than 4.5, and that of sperm is between 7.2 and 8.0. When they come in contact with each other, the vaginal flora changes. The same happens with menstrual blood, which is slightly alkaline. This explains that metallic smell during your period.

Whether diet or exercise interact with vaginal microbiota is less understood, even though these influences have been studied extensively in other microbial systems, including the gut microbiome. 

As long as you’re healthy, there’s nothing you need to do to change or get rid of your natural vaginal odor. If you’re experiencing increased vaginal discharge and the odor becomes stronger, unpleasant, or fishy-smelling, and is accompanied by itching and burning, make sure to contact your health care provider.

Take a quiz. Find out what you can do with our Health Assistant

In medieval times, vaginal discharge was sometimes used as perfume for seduction, as the natural smell of the vagina plays a role in sexual arousal. According to a survey conducted by American researchers, about 75 percent of males noted that the smell of the vagina was one of the most important components to awaken their desire. Researchers also discovered that males reacted more actively to the vaginal smell of females who were close to ovulation. This is because, in the middle of the cycle, the female body produces the greatest number of pheromones that increase sexual attraction.

If you notice a fishy vaginal odor (especially after sex), a burning sensation when you pee, and itching around your vagina, you may have something called bacterial vaginosis, which can also occur without obvious symptoms.

Vaginosis is caused by an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in your vagina. Douching and having sex with a new partner can increase the risk of developing the disease.

Also, studies reveal that obesity and diets that are high fat, high glycemic load/energy density, and low in vitamins A, C, E, and β-carotene are associated with an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis. 

Vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection, but it does increase the probability of getting one.

You cannot catch the infection from a public toilet, by sharing bedding, or in a pool. Sometimes, vaginosis resolves on its own after a few days without any treatment. If the symptoms do not disappear, make sure to consult your health care provider.

Researchers suggest that your diet can change the microflora in your vagina. Some people wonder, are there foods that make your vagina smell bad sometimes? Eating certain products changes the acidity level of the microflora responsible for the smell of your vagina. Foods with a strong odor can also cause odor changes in the vagina. Spices, smoked foods, onion, garlic, broccoli, asparagus, and coffee are all on the list of foods that can sometimes change the smell of your vagina. Eating an excessive amount of meat, dairy products, and alcohol can also make the vagina smell strong and sour. On the other hand, citrus fruits (e.g., oranges and grapefruits) can make the smell and taste of vaginal fluids sweeter.

Some research claims that people who adhere to a vegetarian diet have a milder vaginal odor. 

Lactobacillus, one of the types of bacteria in vaginal flora, plays an important role in keeping the whole system in balance. Humans are the only mammals with this type of dominant bacteria. One possible reason for this is that the high starch content of human diets leads to high levels of glycogen in the vaginal tract, creating a suitable environment for Lactobacillus. Nevertheless, researchers still don’t fully understand how your diet can change your gut and vaginal microbiome.

There are a few simple rules for good genital hygiene:

  • Wash your genitals regularly (once or twice a day).
  • Wear clean, comfortable underwear (preferably made out of cotton).
  • Do not rinse/douche the area inside your vagina unless prescribed by a health care provider.
  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. 
  • Keep track of your discharge and get regular checkups by a gynecologist. 

The natural smell of the vagina is a normal part of your physiology, and there’s no need to try to change it or get rid of it.

“STD Facts - Bacterial Vaginosis.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Feb. 2020, www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm.

Thoma , Marie E, et al. “Bacterial Vaginosis Is Associated with Variation in Dietary Indices.” The Journal of Nutrition, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 6 July 2011, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21734062/.

Tuddenham, S., Ghanem, K.G., Caulfield, L.E. et al. Associations between dietary micronutrient intake and molecular-Bacterial Vaginosis. Reprod Health 16, 151 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12978-019-0814-6

Ahluwalia, Namanjeet, and Hélène Grandjean. “Nutrition, an Under-Recognized Factor in Bacterial Vaginosis.” OUP Academic, Oxford University Press, 1 Sept. 2007, academic.oup.com/jn/article/137/9/1997/4664834.

“Vaginal Odor Possible Causes.” Cleveland Clinic, 2018, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17905-vaginal-odor/possible-causes.

Song, Stephanie D, et al. “Daily Vaginal Microbiota Fluctuations Associated with Natural Hormonal Cycle, Contraceptives, Diet, and Exercise.” MSphere, American Society for Microbiology, 8 July 2020, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7343982/.

Read this next