If you want to see a true treasure of human anatomy, look no further than the vagina. First and foremost, vaginas are a lot of fun — sure, maybe not all the time, but a decent amount of the time. They are also pretty amazing and tough. Each one is special in its own way — and each one really, really wants to have a 1:1 convo with you.
Here’s the thing: They may seem ultra-independent (vaginas tend to do their own thing — they do not check your shared calendar before, they, say, start your period two days early). But that independence works well for you, too: They know how to protect themselves, clean themselves, heal themselves, and most importantly, they let you know what’s up with the rest of your body. And when you feel a weird sensation down below? That’s a sign to listen up!
Because your vagina has its own particular ways of alerting you to what’s happening in your body, you should probably take a listen to what it’s trying to tell you. Here are 13 things your vagina might be trying to tell you.
1. You’re Pregnant.
One of the biggest signs that you’re pregnant is when your period is suddenly MIA and your boobs are sore as hell. But your vagina gives you more than just an absent period to let you know you’re pregnant.
“The mucus membranes of the vulva, vagina, and cervix become congested due to increased blood flow and may appear bluish, called Chadwick’s sign,” Dr. Sheila Loanzon, a board certified OB-GYN and author of Yes, I Have Herpes, tells Bustle. “The uterus and cervix may soften at approximately six weeks gestation, which allows anatomic changes in pregnancy.”
It also produces a lot more leukorrhea (that vaginal discharge you sometimes notice in your undies), because your estrogen levels are increased during pregnancy. Not to mention you’re more prone to yeast infections when you’re pregnant because of all that estrogen. Fun!
2. You Went Out To Dinner
If you can’t recall what you had for dinner last night, one whiff of your vagina might tell you everything you need to know. What we eat has a big effect on how our body smells.
“Theoretically what you eat could reflect in your bodily fluids,” Dr. Loanzon says. “Similar to asparagus when broken down releases the distinct smell in urine."
Eating a lot of things like asparagus, onions, red meat, and broccoli, among others, can make your vagina smell different than usual. While your pee may go back to its usual smell after relieving yourself two or three times after eating asparagus, your vagina might take a bit longer, and that’s totally normal.
3. You’re Stressed Out
Not only does stress take a toll on your mental and emotional health, but because it also affects physical health, your vagina is affected too.
“Bacteria plays a vital role in vaginal health,” Dr. Allison Hill, Los Angeles-based OB/GYN and Florajen chief medical correspondent, tells Bustle. “The predominant organism in the genital tract is Lactobacillus. This bacteria is crucial for maintaining vaginal pH balance and for creating a protective barrier against ‘bad’ bacteria.”
But when we’re stressed out, that balance goes out the window. When our bodies suffer an imbalance, the lactobacillus bacteria fails to keep the Candida genus (yeast) from overgrowing, leaving you with that itchy, smelly, cottage cheese situation.
4. You Have An Infection
Your vagina won’t hide when they’re not feeling their best — and that’s a good thing. Anything off is a sign that your vagina may need some help getting back to top shape.
“The skin of the premenopausal [people’s] vagina is rich in glycogen, which converts glucose to lactic acid which creates an acidic environment in the vagina,” Dr. Loanzon says. “This helps to maintain normal vaginal balance and inhibits infections. STDs, antibiotics, foreign bodies, use of hygienic vaginal products, pregnancy, sexual activity, and contraceptives can disrupt this balance.”
According to Dr. Loanzon, 90% of vagina infections are caused by bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and trichomoniasis.
For example, a fishy-smelling discharge that may be yellow, green, or grey is usually a sure indication that you have vaginosis, which can easily be treated with antibiotics. A cottage cheese-like discharge with accompanying itchiness means you probably have a yeast infection. A “frothy” vaginal discharge that has a scent like rotten eggs may be trichomoniasis. If you have any of these discharges, your vagina wants you to go to a doctor, stat.
5. You’re Ovulating
When a person is ovulating, they have up to 30 times more vaginal discharge than they have at any other point in the month.
“Ovulation impacts every body differently, and not [everyone] experiences the same symptoms,” Dr. Peter Rizk, women’s health expert for Fairhaven Health, told Bustle for a previous article. “[Cervical mucus] should be abundant, thin (even watery to some degree) and very stretchy. It should be able to stretch between your fingers without breaking and will not hold its form.”
So, yes, all that extra discharge in your undies is supposed to be there when you’re ovulating. It also means if you're planning to have a child, this is a good time to work on that.
6. You Should Have Used A Condom
Funky smells? Discharge like you've never seen? Unexplained pain or burning? Vaginal blisters, sores, and something that looks like it’s a cross between a cauliflower and barnacle? Yeah, your vagina really, really wants you to go to a gynecologist immediately.
“Normal vaginal discharge is white or transparent, thick or thin, and mostly odorless and can vary based on time of the month, pregnancy, or various contraceptives,” Dr. Loanzon says. “Vaginal discharge that causes itching, ulcerations or cuts, burning sensation, vaginal bleeding, swelling or pain should be evaluated by a health care professional.”
In these cases, it’s best not to dawdle and address the issue sooner rather than later.
7. You’re About To Get Your Period
Although the vaginal discharge that appears right before your period isn’t quite as much as what you get when you are ovulating, it’s still more than the rest of the month. It’s also during this time that vaginas may be more sensitive, according to studies.
While not every person with a uterus experiences the same premenstrual symptoms, there’s a good chance that if you’ve been getting your period for awhile now, you know exactly what those symptoms are. Noticing how your vagina changes throughout your cycle can clue you into when your period is about to come.
8. You’re Turned On
When you’re aroused, your vagina usually knows it even before your brain does. The stimulation of the vagina lets your brain know it’s time to increase blood flow to the genitals, so as to reach and maintain arousal. At this time, you can feel a tingling in your vagina as the vulva and other parts of your genitals get engorged with that blood. This can happen even when you’re not feeling a sexual sensation. In other words, you might be in a meeting, but your vagina is reliving that hot Saturday night in between the sheets.
9. You Have A Vaginal Disorder
Although it’s not uncommon to have pain occasionally during sexual intercourse, which may be due to lubrication, chafing, or other factors, it’s not common to have pain all the time. And studies have found that women who do experience frequent pain may not report this pain — and doctors may not ask about it. This can lead to social isolation.
That’s why it’s so important to speak up if your vagina is hurting on the regular. “Vaginal pain, also known as vulvodynia, vestibulodynia, or vestibulitis, refers to spontaneous or induced pain on penetration at the vaginal opening or tenderness with pressure,” Dr. Loanzon says. “Evaluation by a gynecologist can exclude other causes before giving this diagnosis.”
Endometriosis can also be another possibility. Again, you can’t know for sure what’s going on until you see your health care provider.
10. You’ve Gotten Too Aggressive In The Shower
One of the many superpowers of the vagina is that it’s self-cleaning — meaning that all those companies trying to get you to buy their douching products are pretty much trying to sell you snake oil.
“Washing with water is all that is needed to clean the vaginal skin,” Dr. Loanzon says. “Over indulgence to ‘cleanse’ the vagina may be worsening your symptoms, best to avoid the offending agent.”
It can’t be said enough that a vagina is supposed to smell like a vagina and not some freshly-picked floral bouquet. Trying to make it smell un-vagina-like with feminine washes, soaps, and/or perfumes can result in chronic hypersensitivity reactions known as contact dermatitis, according to Dr. Loanzon, which may result in below-the-belt itching, discomfort, or odors.
11. You’re Having An Orgasm
When you’re about to have an orgasm, things start moving inside. It’s not just the walls of your uterus that start fluttering but your vagina and anus, too. (Fun fact: If your vagina is British or adopting a UK-style accent, your vagina may think of it as a “fanny flutter.”) You can feel the pressure building in your vagina as your pelvic floor gets ready to do its thing. Once you hit that climax, all that fluttering inside transitions to straight up contractions as your vaginal muscles contract, then release.
If you experience that, along with a full body rush and vaginal tingling, then there’s a good chance you’ve just had an orgasm! And an orgasm doesn’t necessarily need to come from getting hot and heavy with your partner. Your vagina doesn’t discriminate, and sometimes, stimulation from external forces, like a train seat or workout, can lead you to an orgasm too.
12. You’ve Hit Your Workout Routine A Little Too Hard
If you’re sitting on a stationary bike or riding your bike for hours, you may experience an aching sensation in your vagina. The same goes if you use a sex toy for too long, with too much pressure. Another potential injury your vagina may experience during your trip to the gym: Friction burns and chafing, which may occur if your workout gear or underwear is too tight.
Cycling, in particular, can put excess pressure in your nether regions. Once in awhile is NBD, but over time, studies have suggested that this could lead to reduced sensation. One quick fix: Switch your setup so you’re sitting more upright as opposed to hunched over, which will put less pressure down there.
13. It’s Time To Change Those Leggings
Hanging out for too long in sweaty workout leggings or a bathing suit can lead to bacterial overgrowth, which can cause itching, discomfort, or excessive discharge from your vagina. But since these symptoms can be a sign of an infection, it’s a good idea to talk to a doc about anything itchy or uncomfortable down there.
But in the meantime, it’s a good time to have a heart to heart with your vagina about your wardrobe choices. Every vagina is different, and some vaginas (and their owners) appreciate the comfort that comes from going commando, while other vaginas like the support provided by undies. Either way, make sure they fit, make sure they’re fresh, and change as soon as you get sweaty or when your clothes get wet for a happy vagina.
Kwan, I. (2015) “Premenstrual syndrome.” British Medical Journal.
Partin, S. and others (2012) “The bar sinister.” Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Sorenson, J. and others (2018) “Evaluation and treatment of female sexual pain.” Cureous.
Dr. Sheila Loanzon, board certified OB-GYN and author
Dr. Peter Rizk, women’s health expert for Fairhaven Health
Dr. Allison Hill, OB/GYN and Florajen chief medical correspondent
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