I’m 13 and I’ve recently been seeing some weird… stuff in my underwear. It’s not my period (I haven’t gotten that yet), and I don’t think I could have an STI because I’ve never had sex. What’s going on?!

This is a great question, and one that too many people are wandering around privately panicking about at your age. What you’re seeing in your underwear is called “vaginal discharge.” It’s a totally normal part of growing up that we definitely don’t talk about enough! About six months before you get your first period, hormones spur your vagina and cervix to start producing mucus, or discharge. You’ll start seeing clear, white, or yellowish fluid in your underwear, which can really freak you out if you’re not expecting it! But vaginal discharge serves a super important purpose. Your vagina is like a self-cleaning oven! Discharge enables it to stay moist, fight off infections, and create a hospitable environment for future sperm sailors (but you don’t have to worry about that yet).

Once you begin having menstrual cycles, you may notice that your discharge looks different throughout the month. This is completely normal, and a handy way to check in with your body! Right after your period, you may not have very much discharge at all. As your estrogen levels rise, it will become white and creamy-looking. Before and during ovulation, your discharge is clear, slippery, and stretchy, almost resembling egg whites. This cervical mucus provides a first-class passage for sperm to reach the egg. After your fertile window is finished, discharge becomes thick and white again until your next period. What’s going on in your underwear is a great window into what’s going on in your cycle.

And that’s not all your vagina can tell you! When you’re feeling turned on, your vagina secretes yet another kind of fluid from the vaginal walls, or gets “wet.” This is triggered by extra blood flow to the vagina when you become aroused. What your vag is doing doesn’t always match up to what your brain is feeling, but your climate down there can sometimes give you clues into what you’re into (or not).

Get comfortable with what’s going on down there! Your vagina (and its many fluids) is part of your body, and you should feel empowered to explore the rain forest down under. This can also help you notice any changes that could indicate an infection. Your vagina should smell like a vagina, not a flower, but discharge that smells strongly or looks different than usual could indicate that something is up down there. If that’s the case, check in with a medical provider to get your personal ecosystem back on the right track!