why does my discharge smell sour
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What should your vagina smell like?

As women and people with vaginas, we’ve been taught that if your vagina smells it’s “bad”, shameful, or unclean. But aside from any abnormal vaginal odor relating to infection, these notions are inaccurate and capitalize on our insecurities and fears.

In this article /

    According to Dr. Karen Tang, the vagina has a natural scent to it, contrary to the belief that vagina smell is “bad”, unnatural, or even shameful. There is no need to try to fight it or cover it up with products. In fact, using products can be harmful. The vagina is self-cleaning and regulated. If you detect an irregular smell, check in with a health care professional to rule out infection.

    Products for Vaginal Odor

    Dr. Jen Gunter, Dr. Karen Tang, and even Kourtney Kardashian are a few voices you might’ve heard chime in about feminine odor. Some are accurate, fighting shame and stigma, and some, unfortunately, exploit our insecurities. 

    Is the Fear of Vagina Smell Misogynistic?

    Our fear of a smelly vagina is not inherently misogynistic. We all have different sensitivities and preferences when it comes to smells, cleansing habits, routines and the products we use. The issue of misogyny comes into play when fear or disgust of our natural odor is used to demean or put us down.  
    Misogyny is the hatred, contempt, or prejudice against women based on their gender. When the fear of vaginal odor is used to shame women, it reinforces harmful stereotypes and contributes to a culture that devalues and objectifies women based on their physical attributes.
    As acknowledged by Dr. Karen Tang, there is, unfortunately, now some “female empowerment” being used to disguise this misogyny, “making people think their perfectly normal bodies are bad, dirty, or unhealthy, by selling unnecessary products.”  
    There are so many products on the market that might have you questioning your own unique odor. These products, however, are totally unnecessary and never recommended by reputable healthcare professionals.

    Factors Affecting Vaginal pH Balance

    It's important to recognize that the natural scent of a vagina varies among individuals and can change due to fluctuations in pH levels and factors such as hygiene, menstrual cycle, or overall health. However, promoting open and respectful discussions about bodily functions and personal preferences can help foster understanding and empathy, rather than perpetuating harmful stereotypes or discriminatory attitudes.
    While we appreciate that vaginal health including vaginal pH level is becoming more widely discussed and is a very important part of our overall health and wellbeing, (Kourtney Kardashian got one thing right), there’s still a lot of misinformation out there.  
    Vaginal health should be done for your comfort and gynecological protection—not to create a pleasing taste or scent for the approval of the patriarchy. “Anyone who suggests that your vagina isn't fresh or needs an improved taste is a misogynist and awful person," Jen Gunter says.

    Why Does My Discharge Smell Sour or Have a Fishy Smell?

    How do you know if the smell of your vagina is normal, or something to be concerned about? To draw from another gynecological expert, Dr. Jolene Brighten discusses vaginal secretions and scents in her new book, Is This Normal? And tells us about what is normal in terms of vaginal smell and discharge.
    Dr. Brighten says, “vaginas all have a slight odor. Because of the bacteria that colonize the vagina, there’s a smell that’s given off. It’s typically not strong, fishy or pungent. It’s a sign of a completely normal vagina with a completely normal amount of healthy vaginal flora.”  
    She gives us details of some potential scents.
    Sour or fermented smelling, like yogurt, beer, or bread: This is normal and comes from the same bacteria that makes these foods, called lactobacillus.

    Ammonia-scented: This could be a sign of infection like bacterial vaginosis (BV) which sometimes gives off a chemical smell. It could also be coming from your urine, which can smell of ammonia if you’re dehydrated.

    Fishy odor: This usually means vaginal bacteria is unbalanced, I.e., a sexually transmitted infection (STI), a symptom of BV, or a yeast infection—check in with your healthcare professional.

    Rotten: This could mean you’ve forgotten a tampon—a lot more common than you’d think!

    Body odor or skunky smell: Sometimes your BO (and vaginal odor similarly) can resemble the smell of cannabis.  
    In the words of Dr. Brighten, “your vagina smells like you.” Don’t feel ashamed of it, try to mask it, or correct it. The vagina is doing its job to keep itself clean, healthy, and ward off unwanted bacteria. 

    How to Maintain Vaginal Health and Odor

    1. Never wash inside the vagina. And when washing around it, just use warm water and a gentle cleanser. Let the vagina do its self-cleansing thing!

    2. Use insert products like 100% medical grade silicone menstrual cups or discs. Avoid sweaty pads or wet tampon strings this summer and opt for a menstrual product that allows you to easily stay feeling fresh, even while enjoying being active outdoors.

    3. Wear underwear made from breathable fabrics and go without, when you can, like overnight.

    4. Eat a healthy diet, with a variety of fruits, vegetables, legumes and healthy proteins. Avoid having an overly processed or sugary diet—this can increase the opportunity for unwanted bacteria to grow.


    • Brighten, Dr Jolene. “The Truth about Vaginal Discharge and Odor.” Dr. Jolene Brighten, 12 Feb. 2020, drbrighten.com/vaginal-discharge/. Accessed 1 June 2023.
    • “Kourtney Kardashian’s Lemme Vagina Gummies? Don’t Bother, Say Experts.” BBC News, 7 Feb. 2023, www.bbc.com/news/newsbeat-64546757. Accessed 1 June 2023.
    • “Vaginal Odor | Cleveland Clinic.” Cleveland Clinic, 2018, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/17905-vaginal-odor.