We're lucky to live in era where discussing our periods is no longer considered taboo. Women are being encouraged to speak up about their experiences — on the internet and elsewhere — because there's nothing abnormal or shameful about menstruating. Is it weird and sometimes unpleasant? Sure — but so is being human. There's no reason to ever perceive our periods as too disgusting to talk about.
That being said, there are some menstruation topics that are easier to chat about than others. For instance, it's sexier to talk about the convenience of menstrual cups than it is to, say, talk about what a pain it is to clean the red stain out of your white sheets when your cycle decides to speed up a bit and arrive early. And there is one thing that almost never gets mentioned in our period discussions, and it's time we show it a little more attention: how our vaginas smell during our periods.
The power of smell shouldn't be taken lightly. It's a sense that has been strongly linked to memories and various emotions, which is why you always get slightly sentimental when you catch a whiff of the perfume or shampoo that your ex used to use. More importantly, though, a smell is one of your body's many methods of telling you what's going on inside. A bodily scent might just be there to inform you that there are some changes happening— like that your uterus is shedding its lining — or maybe it's there to yank your attention to something more serious. Because of this, we owe it to ourselves to become educated on the matter, and listen to our bodies. Well, sniff, actually, but you know what I mean.
Above all, remember there is nothing revolting about how your vagina smells mid-menstrual cycle. Vaginas smell. It's what they do. Contrary to what the commercials you see for feminine hygiene products would have you believe, our lady parts do not always smell like well-tended rose gardens. And that's OK.
Here are four tips to help you become more at ease with any smells you may notice during your period.
1. Familiarize Yourself With Your Smells
First and foremost, remember that you have your very own personal smell. It's subject to change a little bit, depending on where you are in your cycle. Take notice of the way your vagina smells when you're not on your period, and then pay attention when you're menstruating — does it smell any different? You might find an informative pattern. For example, maybe you'll notice that when you forget to change your tampon, the scent becomes a bit more potent, or that it carries a whiff of fish after you have sex.
Strangely enough, menstrual blood doesn't have a specific scent on its own. It emits a smell only when it mixes with bacteria, sweat, fabric, or even just the air. So paying attention to what you're wearing or doing during your period could help you understand exactly why your vagina smells the way it does.
2. Learn Which Smells Are Serious & Which Aren't
Dr. Sara Gottfried, founder and medical director of the Gottfried Center for Integrative Medicine in Oakland, CA, told You Beauty that the pH levels in your vagina change when you're on your period. They rise from the normal 4.7 to a less acidic 7.4; with this change, you may notice a metallic scent. That is totally normal, and it will probably go away right after you toss out that last tampon.
But if you've got a particularly powerful fish-like smell persistently coming from your lady parts during your period, consider getting it checked out by a medical professional, because you might have a vaginal infection. It could be a bacterial imbalance in the vagina or an STI, both of which can be cleared up with a chat with your OBGYN, followed by a simple prescription of antibiotics.
No matter what kind of smell you catch coming off your vagina, though, if it is overwhelming, make an appointment with your doctor to get to the bottom of it.
3. Clean Your Vagina — The Right Way
There's one major rule of proper vagina cleaning: No douching! I repeat, back away from the douche! Douching can make your entire genital area more irritated, and that's exactly the opposite of what you want. Give your lovely vag some TLC instead. Wash only the vulva with mild soap and water — don't try to wash inside your vagina. Also, stay away from the scented products, including pads, tampons, panty liners, and toilet paper. You don't want any perfume in that delicate area, because it can lead to irritation.
There are other ways to keep your vag clean without actually taking soap to it, as well. Wear clean cotton underwear at all times during your period. If you're a tampon user, change it every few hours and keep an eye on the quality of your string. Sometimes, when the string has been subject to several trips to the bathroom, it begins to smell strongly of pee. Mix that in with menstrual blood and body odor, and you might have quite a scent on your hands.
4. Don't Be Afraid To Talk About It
The fact that we're talking about periods more than ever before is certainly something worth celebrating, so let's keep the momentum going. If you feel like you want to chat about what your vagina smells like during your period, go for it. You and your bestie talk about everything else anyway — detailed sexual encounters, BO, flossing, etc. — so the topic of what your vag smells like shouldn't be any different.
Just chatting with your friends might put you at peace; knowing plenty of women out there experience the same things as you each month might stop you from secretly freaking out. However, if you're still harboring any doubts about what is or isn't normal, ask your doctor. Know that you don't need to ever be ashamed of how your vagina smells — and taking care of your health is a key element of being proud of your body.
Images: Andrew Zaeh for Bustle; Giphy (5)