The vagina never quits. It's a self-cleaning, tissue-shedding, lubricating ecosystem of bacteria, yeast, and glitter. OK, I'm exaggerating with the glitter. But only because what we are about to talk about is not really very, well, glittery: I'm talking about weird vaginal fluids and what they mean for your reproductive health. You might think vagina ownership is just a pain, and sometimes it is, but when you really break it down, it's more like a garden of wonders. The stuff that comes out of it is just a daily part of life for most of us. Sometimes our discharge is just a little clear trickle. Sometimes it's more like a creamy tsunami. And sometimes it's an usual color with an unusual odor. It can get a little hard to navigate, but we all know there's no shame in the vagina-owning game.
"Vaginal fluid is a part of normal body processes which help in fluid balance and vaginal health," Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In Gyn Care, a walk-in gynecological care clinic in New York City, tells Bustle. "The normal fluid is secreted by various glands in the vaginal lining."
Since vaginal discharge is such an everyday part of life, how can you know when things are running their regular course or when it's time to steer your ship to the doctor? Well, when in doubt, always ask a health care provider. But the best thing you can do in the meantime is to learn about vaginal discharge and odor so you can pay attention to your body and understand what's normal for you and what's usually a sign of trouble.
"There are varies different kinds of vaginal fluid," says Dr. Gupta. "At the end of your cycle, you may have a thick, white discharge. During ovulation it may be clear and stretchy. Clear and watery discharge can be apparent during different times throughout your cycle." But there are other potential fluid situations in the mix, too.
As a Planned Parenthood clinic manager with a Responsible Sexuality Educator certificate, I've heard every unexpected discharge story you can imagine, so don't be embarrassed to open up. Here are six vaginal fluids and discharges, decoded.
1. Green & Foamy
Your vaginal discharge should not be green and foamy. Green discharge is usually a sign of a common sexually transmitted infection called trichomoniasis. Trichomoniasis is actually a one-celled creature that swims around in your vagina, making itself at home. In its wake is green to yellow discharge with a foul odor can be watery or foamy. You'll need to see your doctor to get the antibiotics that evict this parasite.
2. Gray & Fishy
Gray, watery, fishy discharge often signals an infection called bacterial vaginosis. This is a common infection that people can get even if they're not sexually active, much like a yeast infection. Your doctor will look at your vaginal discharge under a microscope to determine what type of infection you have, then perhaps send you home with some antibiotics. Sometimes mild cases go away on their own.
3. Clear & Stretchy
Egg white-like, stretchy, and clear discharge, also called cervical mucus, is normal and healthy. You might get it at the same time every month as part of your regular, overall menstrual cycle. This wonder stuff means your body is getting ready to welcome some sperm with open arms, as the discharge nourishes and protects sperm.
4. Watery & Clear
Watery and clear discharge is the toughest nut to crack. Most of the time, it's just sweat, lubrication, or the by-product of your reproductive system's self-cleaning process. But since you can have a vaginal infection or sexually transmitted disease with no or few symptoms, any type of discharge can potentially mean a trip to the doctor is in order. If there's more than usual, or anything about it seems off (including odor, consistency, and timing), call your doctor to be on the safe side.
5. Thick & Lumpy
If you have thick, lumpy discharge, often described as cottage cheese discharge, you probably have a good old fashioned yeast infection. Yeast infections are generally no big deal, although they can feel like a raging fire in your underpants. The burning, itching, and chunky discharge can even go away on its own. If it doesn't go away after a week, you can get over-the-counter yeast infection treatments or prescription treatment from your doctor.
If you get thick, creamy, paste-like discharge on the regular, it's typically nothing to worry about. According to Go Ask Alice, this discharge is a normal, healthy part of your cycle. It's much like the clear, watery discharge in that it's usually normal but sometimes it can signal infection. The key is to know yourself and pay attention to your cycle.
Vaginal discharge is something each woman experiences differently. If you have any kind of discharge that's not normal to you, it's best to get checked out. "When fluid is an abnormal color, smell or consistency, and when it’s paired with additional symptoms such as burning, inflammation, itching or pelvic pain," it's time to see a doctor, Dr. Gupta says. Better to talk to your OB/GYN than risk your health or fertility.
This post was originally published on October 8, 2015. It was updated on June 14, 2019.
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