7 Facts About Vaginal Discharge You Didn’t Learn In Sex Ed
Everyone with a vagina has regular vaginal discharge. (By regular, I mean on a daily basis, not that there's any regular or "normal" kind of discharge.) It varies in consistency, color, amount, and smell, and is essential in keeping the vagina on the up and up, as old cells and unnecessary bacteria are washed away every day with it. But because we don't talk about vaginal discharge as often as we should, some people don't really understand not just how common discharge is, but how important it is too. No matter what form it comes in, vaginal discharge gives you a heads up as to what's going on in your body, where you are in your cycle, and if you have an STI or another type of infection.
"Regular discharge is good because it keeps the vaginal pH healthy, acts as a natural cleanser, helps the good bacteria (called Lactobacillus), and helps sexual intercourse to be pleasurable," gynecologist Dr. Kim Langdon, tells Bustle. "Discharge is also a sign that you are making enough hormones to keep the vagina moist."
Because we tend to stay mum when it comes to vaginal discharge, it's time to tackle the subject head on. Here are seven things no one ever told you about vaginal discharge.
1. Estrogen Is Behind The Discharge During The First Half Of Your Cycle
"When we look at the normal physiology of the menstrual cycle, it correlates to the vaginal discharge that women experience," Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board certified OB-GYN and author of Yes, I Have Herpes, tells Bustle. "The beginning half of the cycle (the approximate two weeks from when your cycle ends to ovulation) is estrogen-driven, which causes the cervical mucus to be thin, egg white-like, and stringy."
As Dr. Loanzon explains, the reason the discharge is this way at this particular time in your menstrual cycle is basically because it's setting up to be a welcoming environment for sperm, so it can make its way to an egg that will be released during ovulation.
2. Progesterone Is Behind The Discharge For The Second Half Of Your Cycle
"After ovulation until your next period, progesterone drives this part of the cycle where the discharge becomes thick, white, and perhaps clumpy," Dr. Loanzon says. "This discharge is to prevent further penetration of that egg by other sperm so women don't give birth to litters like cats."
It's also through this vaginal discharge that, according to Dr. Loazon, you can figure out where you are in your cycle to either prevent getting pregnant or, if you're ready, try to get pregnant.
3. Some People Discharge More Than Others
"Women complain of needing to use liners due to increased vaginal discharge assume that there is something wrong with them," Dr. Loanzon says. "As long as the discharge doesn't itch or smell bad, this may be your normal body secretions."
If you use a liner for discharge, that's incredibly common, and doesn't mean there's anything "wrong." However, as Dr. Loanzon explains, if you start getting more discharge than usual, a health care provider can ensure there are no infections that may need to be treated.
4. Don't Listen To Your Partners About About Your Discharge
"Women come into my office stating that their partners claim that they must have an infection because their vaginal discharge is present, copious, or 'smelly'," Dr. Loanzon says. "The vaginal mucus membranes lubricate in sexual experiences differently for different women and factor in what I said above about the time of the month that you may be in."
Vaginas are supposed to smell like vaginas and, as Dr. Loanzon explains, its odor isn't going to change just to suit your partner. So, basically, your partner can keep their negative two cents to themselves.
"Evaluation by your health care provider is reasonable to rule out any issues," Dr. Loanzon says. "However, don't let your partner bully you into thinking something is wrong, make you self-conscious, or doubt yourself and your discharge!"
5. Hormonal Birth Control Can Affect Your Discharge
"Hormonal contraceptives like the birth control pill or Mirena IUD can cause the vaginal discharge to become thicker due to the hormonal influence," Dr. Loanzon says.
The reason for this is to create a difficult environment for sperm so it can't easily make its way to an egg. This thicker vaginal discharge is meant to mimic the influence progesterone has on the body.
"As long as your discharge doesn't itch or smell bad," Dr. Loanzon says, "it's not cause for alarm."
6. Seasonal Allergies Can Affect Your Discharge As Well
Because the vaginal mucus membranes are the same type as those in your eyes, throat, and mouth, when seasonal allergies hit, you better believe it's going to affect your vaginal discharge too.
"If you suffer from seasonal allergies or hay fever with increased mucus production, throat dryness, runny nose, and itchy or swollen eyes, you may notice a correlation of symptoms in your vagina," Dr. Loanzon says. "Consider taking an antihistamine pill daily when the tree flowers bloom to see if it also alleviates your vaginal symptoms."
7. Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy Is Normal
"Due to the large hormonal influences of pregnancy, vaginal discharge is normal," Dr. Loanzon says. "It is usually white, thin, milky, and may have a mild odor. However, [it] does not indicate an infection in pregnancy."
But, to be sure (especially if you're concerned), Dr. Loanzon does recommend seeing your doctor if only to put your mind at ease.
Vaginal discharge is, among other things, completely normal and necessary. It fluctuates throughout the month and depending on what's going on in our bodies. There's no reason to feel ashamed or concerned about it. Unless, of course, you notice something different from what you've been experiencing, in regards to color and smell, then don't hesitate to see your doctor. In the meantime, just accept that it's part of having a vagina.