I’m 13 and my vagina has started to smell. Why? Is something wrong with me? I’m feeling really self-conscious about it.
Good news: vaginas are supposed to smell! Your vagina has a unique mixture of bacteria (the good kind) that makes sure your vagina is as healthy as possible. Everyone’s vaginal biome is a bit different, so everyone smells a bit different down there.
In addition, your sweat glands become more active during puberty and begin to release new chemicals. Because of this, most teens need to wear antiperspirant or deodorant during the day. But your armpits aren’t the only places you have sweat glands. You also have them on your vulva (the outside genitalia) and your groin area.
This sweat combined with your natural vaginal odor can create a musky scent. Since you’ve never smelled it before, it’s understandable that you’d get a little worried—but it’s completely normal. You may notice the smell gets stronger after you’ve exercised. This is from the sweat, and is also normal.
You can make sure the smell doesn’t get too strong by showering and changing your underwear regularly. We don’t recommend using soap directly on your vulva because that can cause irritation or vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina) in some people. Instead, use gentle, fragrance-free soap on the outside of your genital area (where your pubic hair is) and just let water run over the rest of it. Wearing breathable, cotton underwear can also help, since cotton doesn’t trap sweat in the same way machine-made fabrics do. Do NOT use douches or perfumes on your vagina. Douches throw your vaginal biome out of balance, and can cause irritation and infections—which will not only feel uncomfortable, but ultimately make your vagina smell worse!
While some vaginal odor is normal, strong smells can sometimes be an indication that you have an infection, or something else is going on. Here are some other scents you may notice, and what they might mean.
If your vagina smells fishy (especially after sex) and you have more vaginal discharge than normal, you may have bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a very common condition where the balance of bacteria in your vagina gets out of whack. Other symptoms of BV include itching, burning or pain in and around your vagina and burning when you pee. We talk more about BV here. Your vagina may also smell fishy if you have trichomoniasis (or “trich”). This is the most common sexually transmitted infection in the USA, and is easily treated. Trichomoniasis has many of the same symptoms as BV, but you may also notice some green discharge. We talk more about trichomoniasis here.
If you have any of these symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what’s going on down there. Both BV and trichomoniasis can be cured with antibiotics.
If your vagina smells a bit like bread and you have vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese (lots of white lumps), you may have a yeast infection. These happen when too much yeast grows in your vagina, often because of lube, antibiotics, or spermicide. Talk to your healthcare provider. Even though you can get anti-fungal creams over the counter to treat yeast infections, a healthcare provider can confirm that that’s what’s going on down there.
Iron gives blood a metallic smell. When you have your period, you might notice that your vagina smells a bit like a penny. That’s very normal, and doesn’t mean there is anything wrong!
If you’re still concerned about the smell, talk to your healthcare provider. They can answer any questions about what you’re going through, how to take care of your body, and whether everything is healthy down there. If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, you can make a free, confidential appointment with an adolescent medicine specialist at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center.
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