Vaginal smell – why the vagina may start to smell, and what to do about it

Last updated: 9/1/2023

Many women have an occasional intimate problem with an unpleasant vaginal smell. This is both annoying and embarrassing, so you have to act to get rid of it.

A strong, unpleasant smell from the vagina may be a signal that there is something wrong. You can see here what to do about strong smells from the vagina.

Go directly to: How to stop an unpleasant smell from the vagina

Read by Anne Thestrup Meimbresse

Anne, Varde Pharmacy
Anne has a MSc in Pharmacy from the University of Southern Denmark and has worked as a pharmacist at the Varde pharmacy for several years. Here she advises both costumers and doctors about the correct use of medical products.

Causes of vaginal smell

The natural smell from the vagina is mild. The vaginal environment has a pH between 3.8 and 4.2 on the acid/base scale, which means it is acidic. The acidic environment in the vagina keeps out unwanted viruses and bacteria. This means that the vagina will always have a slight smell – which is no cause for worry.

If you notice changes, however, or the smell becomes stronger, it may be a symptom of an infection or disease in the vagina, and you should react. Unpleasant smells are often accompanied by changes in the small quantities of discharge, which are also normal.

There are several different reasons for a very strong smell from the vagina, some more serious than others. You should be aware that the smell may vary during menstruation, pregnancy and other hormonal changes. Here is a summary of possible reasons why the vagina might smell unpleasant.

Video: Vaginal smell? Use the right intimate care

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Vaginal yeast infection

In more than 80 % of cases, Vaginal fungus is caused by the yeast fungus Candida albicans. It causes a bacterial infection by changing the bacterial flora. Yeast fungi live quite naturally in the mucous membranes of the vagina, but when the balance of the flora changes, the yeasts have good conditions to replicate.

The balance in the bacterial flora is delicate, and may change for a variety of reasons. Sperm in connection with sex is a frequent cause of a change in the balance.

Sperm is basic, while the vagina is acidic on the acid-base scale. The combination of the two can easily lead to a change in the balance of lactobacilli – so the fungi have good conditions for growth.

This typically causes itching and an unpleasant smell from the vagina.

Therefore, if you have a vaginal itch together with an increasing smell, it may be a sign of a vaginal yeast infection. If you have fungus in the vagina, it is important to do something about it, not only because it is uncomfortable for you, but also because you can in fact pass it on to your partner during intercourse.

This is very rare, but you should be aware of the risk all the same. Men can be infected by women, but not the other way round. Thus a vaginal yeast infection is not really a sexually transmitted disease.

Read this too: Product for itching, irritation and unpleasant smell in connection with sex

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Sexually transmitted diseases

Sexually transmitted diseases are infections that are only passed on through sexual contact. The risk of catching a sexually transmitted disease increases with the number of sexual partners you have. Several different infections that are passed on during sex can cause a smell from the vagina.

Herpes genitalis

A smell from the vagina may be caused by Herpes genitalis, which is a sexually transmitted virus infection in the vagina. This sexually transmitted infection is passed on when the mucous membranes of two partners come into contact during sexual intercourse, if one of them is infected.

The Herpes virus does not cause a dangerous disease, but it differs from other STIs because it does not disappear from the body. In other words, once you have caught Herpes genitalis, it will remain in your body for the rest of your life.

However, that does not mean that the condition cannot be treated. The symptoms can be suppressed, and in many cases Herpes genitalis remains latent in the body with no outbreaks. An outbreak causes small, painful blisters, which may appear either inside the vagina or on the external genitals.

These small blisters burst and become sores, which can cause the unpleasant and uncomfortable smell.

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea

Chlamydia and gonorrhoea are also sexually transmitted infections that are transmitted during unprotected intercourse. They are both infections of the genital area, which can cause a smell from the vagina. The infection may occur in the urethra, the cervix or the rectum.

These two sexually transmitted diseases may be difficult to see, because in many cases there are no symptoms. However, they may cause stinging in the lower body, especially during urination, and cause a dull pain in the lower body. If you have these symptoms together with an increased smell from the vagina, you may have one of these two sexually transmitted diseases.

Vaginal smell during pregnancy

During pregnancy it is very normal to have more discharge than usual, and it is also normal for the vagina to smell more than usual. Hormones affect the vagina in a number of ways: the membrane becomes thicker, and therefore secretes extra discharge, which is normally clear, watery or white.

There is also a shift in the pH balance, which affects the flora of the vagina, so the discharge may look different from usual. The smell may change, too. The smell is sometimes described as insipid – a bit like sperm.

If you have symptoms that are not normal, such as a very different or unpleasant-smelling discharge, you should see a doctor. The symptoms may be caused by an infection in the vagina, fungal infection or bacterial vaginosis.

There is an increased risk of fungal infections in the vagina during pregnancy, so it is a good idea to take notice of changes in discharge or smells, or of itching or stinging.

A woman's sense of smell is affected during pregnancy, so the way things smell or taste my change. This may mean you find the smell of your discharge strong or directly unpleasant.

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Smell from the vagina after intercourse

After unprotected intercourse, it is very common for an unpleasant smell to come from the vagina. It is sometimes described as fishy. This is because the normal secretion in the vagina contains a range of different microorganisms – first and foremost lactobacilli.

They keep the secretion at the right acidic pH value. The man’s sperm, on the other hand, has a higher, basic pH value, and the vaginal level increases when the two combine. As a result, some bacteria produce an unpleasant fishy smell.

This is a chemical reaction, and the smell should soon disappear.

In some women it does not, which could be because certain types of bacteria build up. These are so-called anaerobic bacteria, which are harmless, but may be highly inconvenient.

You can use various products to get rid of the unpleasant smell. Among other things, you can use Intim Glide, which combats the smell that may occur in connection with intercourse.

Apply Intim Glide beforehand, each time you have intercourse, to reduce the unwanted smell. Treatment with Intim Glide is effective, but must be repeated each time you have sex.

Intim Glide prevents itching, dryness and irritation in connection with sex.

Water based lube to prevent vaginal dryness

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Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is an uncomfortable condition that causes a strong and unpleasant smell in the vagina. The smell often becomes stronger after intercourse, and can turn into a strong smell of fish. The fishy smell is partly due to the mixing of sperm and discharge.

Many women frequently have bacterial vaginosis, and it is estimated that about a third of all women will be troubled by it at one time or another.

This uncomfortable condition arises when the vagina is infected with an increased number of bacteria which normally are only present to a limited extent. They may, for instance, be Gardnerella vaginalis.

Changes in the vaginal environment provide good conditions for the bacteria to reproduce on the mucous membranes of the vagina. Apart from changes in the degree of acidity, for example when basic sperm upsets the balance, the smell may also be associated with hormones.

Strong smells after certain foods

You may have noticed that your urine smells strange after you have eaten asparagus. The same may in fact apply to your vaginal discharge. Some foods can also cause an unpleasant smell from the vagina.

This applies to asparagus, but garlic, onions and broccoli can also cause the vagina to smell less than attractive. If you eat a lot of garlic, therefore, you may have to decide whether you will give up the fine flavour or accept the horrible smell.

Treat vaginal smell

Many women are troubled by unpleasant smells from the vagina, and it is therefore important to find out how to get rid of the problem.

One possibility is to use Australian Bodycare’s Femigel, which is a water-based, hormone-free gel that combats bacteria effectively. It contains Tea Tree Oil, a natural ingredient, which is antibacterial and antiseptic, and also moisturises the intimate area. Femigel is based on natural ingredients. It is dermatologically tested and pH-adjusted, so you can feel quite safe when using it in the delicate area around the outer genitals.

In a clinical test 88 % of the women asked said the gel had stopped smells.

Use it every third day. In severe cases, if the smell is extra strong, we recommend using it around the vaginal opening every day.

Intimate care kit against vaginal odor

3 intimate products for unwanted odor and intimate irritation

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When should you make an appointment with the doctor?

If you notice changes in the smell from your vagina, and at the same time you have some of the symptoms of one of the sexually transmitted diseases above, you should consult a doctor, so that you can get the right treatment.

If you are in the slightest doubt, you should always consult a doctor, so that you can find the cause of the troubling smell and get rid of it.

How to prevent smells from the vagina

It is always a good idea to prevent smells from the intimate area, so that problems do not arise in the first place.

First and foremost, ensure good intimate hygiene by washing yourself once a day. Remember, however, never to use ordinary soap, but an intimate soap specially developed for this area, because it is extra sensitive.

Wash, for example with Intim Wash from Australian Bodycare, which washes bacteria away effectively without irritating or drying the skin. Remember to change your underwear every day, too.

Then apply Femi Daily, a specially developed gel to prevent intimate discomfort such as unpleasant smells. Tea Tree Oil helps to combat the bacteria that can develop and cause smells from the vagina.

Like Femigel, it is dermatologically and gynaecologically tested and pH adjusted, so you get all the care you need, even for the most delicate skin.

Apply it around the opening to the vagina and the external sex organs daily for optimal protection from vaginal smell.

Another thing you can do if you want to avoid unpleasant vaginal smells is to use a condom during sex. That way you avoid sexually transmitted diseases, and in many cases foreign bacteria, which can penetrate into the vagina.

Avoid tight-fitting clothes and underwear, too. Give your vagina space to breathe, so strong-smelling bacteria cannot develop in the area.

In connection with sex, it is advisable to use a specially developed gel to prevent itching, irritation and unwanted smells in connection with sex.

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