Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: vaginal discharge is a normal part of your vagina’s everyday life. Assuming you don’t have a vaginal infection, your discharge is just a concoction of cells, bacteria, and bodily fluid. Much like your eyes are cleansed by tear fluid, vaginal cleansing is taken care of by discharge. As we don’t talk about vaginal discharge as often as we should, some people don’t understand how common and normal discharge is. We think it’s time to go through some basics.
What is discharge and why is it important?
Vaginal discharge is a fluid or mucus that keeps the vagina clean and moist, and protects it from infection. It fluctuates cyclically along with your hormones in appearance, consistency, and volume. The main purpose of it is to make the environment optimal for conception, but the production of vaginal discharge happens even when you aren’t trying to make a baby.
How is it supposed to smell?
Why doesn’t it smell like a field of wildflowers? Should I be douching or washing my vagina with soap? Simple answer: no. Your vagina is a delicate ecosystem and it’s not smart to disrupt the pH balance. Instead of stressing over fragrance, note that vaginas are self-cleaning, like high-tech ovens, and should smell like a vagina. The only part that should be kept clean is your vulva, the outer part of your vagina. Avoid harsh soaps and stick to pH balancing products that are approved by experts.
What does each vaginal discharge type mean?
1. Thin and clear
Watery or clear discharge is normal. If it’s a little cloudy, that’s A-OK, too. Depending on where you are in your cycle, the discharge may come out a little thicker, but the main thing is that it’s mostly clear. As long as you’re not having any weird symptoms, like itching or a funky odour, you’re all good.
2. Stringy or stretchy
Around day-14 of your cycle, you may notice that your discharge has the consistency of raw egg whites. This is a normal part of your cycle, but heads up — it typically means you’re ovulating. Why the slippery texture? It helps sperm swim to the cervix. So if you’re sexually active and not trying to get pregnant, now would be a good time to be careful. Extra careful.
3. Thick & creamy
A thick white discharge can be common during the second half of your cycle, so if things seem extra creamy down there, this is most probably why. If you're not having any other symptoms, like a strong odour, itchiness or discomfort, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. If you’re weirded out by it, talk to your gyno — they can help you figure out what’s going on.
4. Super heavy
As mentioned above, it’s normal to see end-of-cycle creaminess. If you’re taking hormonal birth control or are sexually active, that can make it heavier too. However, there are a few other causes for the excess discharge; like an infection, a lost tampon, or a reaction to a new shower gel. Make sure to eliminate harsh soaps, chemicals and synthetic materials from your vagina’s lifestyle. Are you familiar with the Lunette Menstrual Cup? It can help maintain a healthy vaginal pH — especially since the Lunette Cup won’t dry you out.
5. Brown or bloody
If you only just finished with your period, a bloody or brown discharge is most likely leftover blood exiting the premises. If you have spotting in the middle of your cycle, or this isn’t the first time you’ve noticed blood in your discharge, it would be smart to get things checked out by your gyno. A brownish or blood-tinged vaginal discharge could be from a vaginal infection, a lost tampon or an ovarian cyst. None of these are panic-worthy, but you’ll want to get treated ASAP if something’s going on.
6. White and clumpy
A thick, white discharge with the texture of cottage cheese is a common symptom of a yeast infection. This occurs when the levels of yeast in your vagina are off-balance. Let your doctor know — especially if you have other symptoms like an itchy vagina, irritated labia, or pain when you pee. The good news? Yeast infections are easily treated, and at best, avoided with a bit of knowledge and these handy tips.
7. Yellow or green
Possible trouble makers that can cause green or yellow discharge are sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhoea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis; a lesser-known STI caused by a parasite. If your discharge is green and smells fishy, that could also be bacterial vaginosis, which happens when ‘bad’ bacteria in your vagina outnumber ‘good’ bacteria. Either way, it’s worth a trip to the gyno to rule out something more serious.
A strong, foul, fishy odour with a thin, greyish-white discharge is a classic symptom of a bacterial infection. Of course, not every odour is caused by an infection, but it’s better to get to the bottom of it sooner rather than later.
It’s okay if you don’t have any discharge at all — everyone is different. If the dryness is making you uncomfortable or irritated, though; let your gyno know.
While you’re here...
If you’ve found this information helpful and want to learn more about menstruation, you can read more here.
P.S. Remember that while the vagina is self-cleaning and magical, it is not a miracle worker. The vagina cannot protect itself from sexually transmitted diseases. So make sure to protect yourself by using a condom. Safe sex is the best sex!