There are plenty of things you don’t hear every day, and topping the list has got to be “Why does my butt smell?” This isn’t something one tends to announce in polite company, and yet it’s a totally valid question. Odor can be an embarrassing issue to deal with, but more importantly, any stench that emanates from down below could be a sign something’s up with your health or hygiene.
If you notice a new or worsening smell, simply hop in the bathroom and “inspect the area for any aberrations or changes,” Dr. Evan Goldstein, MD, an anal surgeon and founder and CEO of Bespoke Surgical, tells Bustle. “The external skin and local tissues may provide some clues to the new odor.” If you don’t spot any sores or lumps, try upping your hygiene game — a thorough shower will do — to see if that makes a difference.
“As long as you don’t have other symptoms, like fevers, chills, pain, and/or gastrointestinal complaints, I’d suggest you give it a few days to see if it persists,” Goldstein says. “If the stink just won’t go away or you simply don’t feel comfortable, then a full evaluation is warranted — both inside and out — to get to the bottom of the foul scent.”
Your doctor can take a closer look to check for infections and other signs of a health concern that may be affecting the smell of your butt. Here, a list of various malodorous culprits that may be to blame.
Hemorrhoids are dilated or swollen veins that can crop in the butt hole if you strain while pooping, if you’re pregnant, if you have a low fiber diet, or if you sit for long periods of time on the toilet, Dr. Niket Sonpal, MD, an internist and gastroenterologist, tells Bustle. You’ll likely feel them before you smell them, as they tend to cause a lot of pain and itchiness. But if you do notice an odor, Sonpal says it might smell iron or metallic.
According to Goldstein, the bulge of a hemorrhoid can also affect the closure mechanism of your sphincter, which means the hole will stay open a tiny bit. “If you can imagine, these small gaps or coaptations can let gas and even poop slip out, resulting in a smell,” he says. “Most times these resolve with conservative treatments of creams, baths, and time, but sometimes they need surgical removal to stop the wet, moist, and smelly situation.”
2. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
While it's obviously common and healthy to poop and pass gas throughout the day, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can make you poop way more often than necessary. Symptoms include pain and bloating, gas, constipation, and diarrhea. And to say it can be smelly is an understatement. “Foul-smelling gas is a common symptom of IBS and can smell different based on what you eat,” Sonpal says.
The trouble is, IBS isn’t a condition on its own but a collection of symptoms with many potential causes, including but not limited to a surplus of bacteria in the intestine, anxiety and depression, and food sensitivities or intolerances, Sonpal says.
3. Food Sensitivities
Speaking of food sensitivities, excessive gas can result from the way your body processes (or struggles to process) certain foods, Jessica Lue-Lai, MD, a primary care physician at One Medical, tells Bustle. If you happen to eat something that doesn't agree with you, or if you have an undiagnosed food intolerance, your gas might even be smellier than usual.
Excess gas could be a sign of something like lactose intolerance, which can cause symptoms of bloating, gas, and even diarrhea. As Lue-Lai says, gassiness may also point to a gluten sensitivity or intolerance. Symptoms might include bloating, diarrhea, extra smelly poop, and other non-digestive related issues.
Eliminating suspect foods from your diet one by one — just to see how you feel, at first — may help you identify which ones don’t agree with your body. Remember, though, that there's a difference between a food sensitivity and allergy, which is much more severe.
4. Sexually Transmitted Infections
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), like gonorrhea and chlamydia, can impact your butt area and cause abnormal odors. It’s often due to discharge that may leave the rectum, which tends to have a foul odor, Sonpal says. Other symptoms of chlamydia include rectal pain, painful bowel movements, mucous in your stool, and redness in the anal area. Gonorrhea symptoms include bleeding, anal itchiness, soreness, and painful bowel movements. Both, he says, can be treated with antibiotics.
You might also have a case of anal warts caused by HPV, Goldstein says, which are quite common if you’ve had anal sex. “If you feel or smell something’s off and the timing coincides with a recent sexual exposure, it’s time to get fully checked,” he says.
5. Impacted Skin Follicles
If you take a look at your bum and spot something that looks like a pimple near your anus, it may be an impacted skin follicle. “These are actually clogged glands so they can definitely leak out nasty smelling stuff,” Goldstein says. “Most people are able to address these with warm compresses and/or baths, as well as time.” Sometimes, though, a doctor may need to open and drain it, he says, whether or not there are bacteria present.
6. An Abscess
The closer an impacted skin follicle gets to the hole itself, it runs the risk of being an anal abscess caused from a possible anal fistula. “There are these glands that are located a few centimeters inside our [holes] that can get clogged and lead to annoying infections,” Goldstein says. “These can cause complex issues and should be addressed sooner than later. Many of them require surgical intervention to resolve the primary issue, which will also take care of the foul odor.”
7. Not Wiping Properly
Now, back to hygiene. If you aren't wiping thoroughly after you go to the bathroom, you might notice that you don't feel as fresh. It's something lots of people do without even realizing, usually because they're in a hurry or don’t do a thorough job. But often all it takes to correct the issue are a few new habits.
For example, "it’s best to wipe firm enough to get all your stool but not too hard to cause an abrasion,” Lue-Lai says. “You can use an unscented, non-medicated, chemical-free wipe, but the key is to make sure you are wiping so that you feel you are clean and fresh."
Sonpal echos this, adding that wiping direction matters. “It is best to gently wipe front to back with strong, soft toilet paper,” he says. “There is no set number of times you should wipe, but usually three swipes should remove fecal matter.” To really get in there you can even use a bidet, if you have one on hand, to remove any lingering bacteria.
8. Wearing Synthetic Or Tight Clothing
While you may want your jeans or leggings to be snug, be careful about clothes that fit close to the skin. "Tight-fitting clothing such as underwear or pants can cause excessive sweating and reduce air circulation around your genitals," Lue-Lai says. "This can cause skin infections and even lead to changes in your pH."
When the pH of your nether region changes, bacterial and yeast infections can occur, leading to new odors in the surrounding area — including your butt. Add in synthetic fabrics and the odor can be that much worse.
Man-made materials — like polyester or nylon — don't allow your bits to breathe, thus trapping sweat and bacteria inside your clothes. If you notice that some of your clothes cause more odors than others, it may help to switch to natural fabrics, like linen and cotton, which can help keep air flowing.
9. Excessive Sweating
The butt area is ripe with sweat glands. Natural sweating throughout the day can gather, mix with bacteria, and create an odor down below. But this is even more likely to happen if your body’s chemistry is thrown off, Dr. Sapna Shah, MD, a board-certified endocrinologist with Paloma Health, tells Bustle.
If you seem to be sweating more than usual, it may be due to an over-active thyroid gland. “When your thyroid function changes, it affects virtually every system in the body,” Shah says. “In the case of an overactive thyroid, you might experience symptoms that feel like the body is speeding up — for instance, restlessness, fast heartbeat, or excessive sweating even when you're not exerting yourself.” Cut to your underwear feeling sweaty or soggy.
Constipation, which can be caused by a low-fiber diet, digestive problems, change in routine, dehydration, and some medications, not only feels uncomfortable but can lead to smelly side effects over time.
Since the main symptom is difficulty going to the bathroom, stool can definitely back up and cause gas and other odors to leak out. Let a doctor know if you can’t go, especially if it’s been longer than three weeks or you’re in a lot of pain.
If you ever notice a pungent scent on or around your butt area, and these other health conditions aren’t to blame, it may be due to stress. “In some cases, stress can induce a foul smell from your body,” Dr. Amber O'Brien, MD, a medical doctor with Mango Clinic, tells Bustle.
Again, it’s all thanks to the sweat glands that populate this area — particularly the stress-y kind. “A human body has two various kinds of sweat glands, known as eccrine and apocrine,” O’Brien says. “Apocrine sweat is commonly released when you’re stressed out. You can get rid of this unpleasant odor by managing your stress levels.”
How To Clean Your Butt
Remember, good hygiene is often the best line of defense against butt odor. “Quick tips: ditch the wet wipes, implement a nighttime shower routine — and make sure your butt is completely dry afterward — change your towels and sheets at least weekly, be naked as often as you can to aerate everything, and invest in a bidet or hop in the shower after going number two,” Goldstein says.
“If the issues persist, you should see someone who understands all the facets of your daily activities and even your sexual preferences,” he adds. “Most times doing the above can fix the issue, as well as using local creams and treatments to help rid the foul odor.”
Drake, S.M. (1980). Vaginal pH and microflora related to yeast infections and treatment. British Journal of Venereal Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1045744/
Harker, M. (2013). Psychological sweating: a systematic review focused on aetiology and cutaneous response. Skin Pharmacol Physiol. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23428634/
Hoenen, M. (2017). The Impact of Stress on Odor Perception. Perception. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28073304/
Dr. Evan Goldstein, anal surgeon
Dr. Niket Sonpal, internist and gastroenterologist
Dr. Jessica Lue-Lai, MD, primary care physician
Dr. Sapna Shah, board-certified endocrinologist
Dr. Amber O'Brien, MD, medical doctor
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