We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. This week’s topic: how to know whether your vaginal discharge is normal and healthy when you seem to be leaking a lot.
Q: I know that vaginas discharge stuff (not really sure what it is to be honest) and that it’s normal. But I’ve been recently discharging a lot. Like a lot a lot. I routinely soak my panties and have started wearing a liner every day. Is that normal? Or is there something I should be doing about it?
A: Vaginas are by their nature often wet. Indeed, it’s the slippery identity of pussies that keep them healthy and make them feel so great! However, there’s a balance to all things, and vaginas are no exception. By which I mean that there is such a thing as a too-wet vagina. Think of it as your special parts trying to communicate to you that you need to help reset your internal balance in some way.
What Is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Why do vaginas secrete at all, and what is that substance anyway? Great question! Your pussy is incredible for many (I’d argue innumerable) reasons, and one of them is that it’s self-cleaning! Your vagina is a portal to all sorts of important interior parts, so it’s critical that it has the capacity to keep the whole reproductive system squeaky clean.
The fluid that comes out of your vagina is called discharge. It’s made by glands inside your vagina and is designed to convey dead cells and bacteria right on outta there, so that you don’t get an infection all up in your special parts.
Your fully normal vaginal discharge can change in fully normal ways throughout your menstrual cycle. It can range from no color at all to a milky white, and the amount can also change during your cycle — for instance, most people discharge more when they’re ovulating, and of course, when they’re turned on!
Wait, So What’s Not Normal?
If things are so changeable down there, how do you know when to panic? Here are the major culprits for why your vagina may be overactive on the wetness front.
Culprit #1: Yeast Infection
Yeast infection happens when your vagina gets too basic (in the pH sense, I’m not talking pumpkin spice lattes here), allowing the fungus candida to really just go for it and grow all over the place. It makes your discharge look like cottage cheese and will also make your pussy lips and interior itch a lot.
If your excess discharge comes with an ants-in-your-pants or burning feeling and is white and clumpy, you can save yourself! There are a bunch of over-the-counter remedies, like creams, and home remedies including yogurt and garlic, apple cider vinegar, or boric acid suppositories. You can also ask your doctor for a one-day antibiotic. Also, yeast infections can be triggered by stress, so please zen out if you need to.
Culprit #2: Bacterial Vaginosis
Similar to yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis is when the bacteria that flourish in your pussy get knocked out of pH whack and your vagina ends up too basic. It is also known to make your pussy itchy. When you have bacterial vaginosis, your discharge will be thin and gray colored and smell fishy. If this sounds like you (or um, smells like you), don’t worry — it often goes away on its own, and if it doesn’t, medications can help get you rebalanced.
Culprit #3: A Sexually Transmitted Infection
A number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) come with their own (not so) exciting discharges. Remember that you can protect yourself from all of these STIs and more with condoms!
Chlamydia is a bacterial infection. Sometimes it’s asymptomatic, as in you don’t know you have it (so get tested routinely!) but some people notice that they have more discharge than usual and feel itching and burning in their special parts. Luckily, chlamydia is treatable with antibiotics.
Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is a bacterial infection that you can have without knowing it. However, symptoms in those who get them include discharge that’s yellow in color, as well as itching, burning, redness, or swelling in your special parts. Gonorrhea is also treatable with antibiotics, but unfortunately some strains have become resistant, making treatment more difficult in certain cases.
Trichomoniasis is a parasitic infection that can cause vaginal itching and burning (this is sounding like a horrible trend, am I right?) as well as more discharge than usual. If you have this parasite, your discharge will be yellow to green in color, frothy in texture, and smelly in, er, smell. Luckily, this one is also treatable with antibiotics.
Culprit #4: A Forgotten Tampon
Realtalk for a minute, we’re all busy, and it can be hard to keep track of all the things going on … not to mention in. So no judgement if you accidentally leave a tampon in for way longer than the usual eight-whatever hours recommended on the package. If this happens, the tampon will start to fester, resulting in increased discharge as your body tries to eject the problem … and a really not nice smell. This problem is easily solved by taking the tampon out.
Culprit #5: Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is a bacterial infection in your reproductive organs. The bacteria usually gets all up in there through sexual transmission, like chlamydia or gonorrhea, but can also hitch a ride through other things like unclean IUD insertion. Some people don’t experience PID symptoms, but if you do, it can hurt a lot in your pelvic area, you can bleed between periods, and you can get heavy discharge that smells not good. This inflammation can be treated with antibiotics.
Culprit #6: Hormonal Birth Control
If you’re on hormonal birth control that contains estrogen, you may be getting slipperier and slipperier. Estrogen gradually increases how much discharge your body makes. Some people like this, because slipperiness makes sex feel great! But other people find it to be too much. If you’re in this second group, you can always switch to a birth control option with more progesterone, or go off the estrogen altogether.
Culprit #7: Cervical Cancer
Cervical cancer comes from another STI called human papillomavirus, or HPV. This STI is super common (the most common STI in fact), but only a couple strains can cause cancer. Most of the time your body gets rid of it on its own within a couple years tops. But, when your body doesn’t clear one of the high-risk cancer strains for a long time, your cervical cells can turn abnormal and eventually transition into cancer cells.
Cervical cancer doesn’t always have obvious symptoms, which is why it’s important to get routine pap smears. However, if you notice that your discharge is watery, smells bad, and is bloody or brown in color, visit your doctor to make sure you don’t have cervical cancer.
The Bottom Line
Despite its nickname as the netherlips or the vertical smile, your vagina doesn’t speak your language. Discharge is one of its only ways to tell you that it needs some support, maybe a little more attention, and possibly a round of medication. So pay attention to your pussy and get acquainted with your normal ebb and flow. That way you’ll know if something is out of whack.