Let’s be real here – vaginal discharge affects most women’s lives as they begin to go through puberty and continues throughout most of life. What most women don’t realize, though, is you’re not alone! Vaginal discharge isn’t widely talked about, but we’re about to change that. It’s important to talk about because discharge can tell you a lot about your period cycle and health. Keep reading to find out all there is to know about discharge like what it even is, and what the different colors and consistencies mean.
What’s vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a fluid, generally a clear or milky color, that comes out of your vagina. The fluid discharge is created by your body as a way to flush out any dead cells and bacteria in your vagina. Vaginal discharge is a really important cycle of the body because it naturally cleans your vagina to keep it happy and healthy. It normally starts about a month or a year before your first period and constantly changes as hormones change.
What do the colors mean?
The color of your discharge can tell you a lot about your health.
Reds: Shades of reds ranging from a brighter color to an almost brownish red is a sign of menstruation. However, if you’ve experienced menopause and are not menstruating anymore it could be a sign of endometrial cancer.
Pinks: Pink discharge can range from being super light pink to a darker almost red. Usually, this is a sign that your period is going to start soon. It can also be a bit of spotting during ovulation, which comes out as a pinkish color. Lastly, if you experience pink discharge after sex this could be a sign that the vagina or cervix tore or was irritated. This is all okay and is just your body's way of communicating.
Gray: If your discharge is gray, your body is trying to tell you that you might have a bacterial infection in your vagina. Along with the gray discharge you could be experiencing itching and irritation. You should see a doctor to get antibiotics if there is an infection.
Clear: Clear discharge is healthy. It probably looks a bit like the egg whites of eggs. You most likely have clear discharge right before ovulating, during sexual arousal, or while you’re pregnant.
Yellow/Green: If the discharge has a slight yellow tint to it, it’s most likely not a problem. In fact, it could just be indicating a dietary change if you’ve switched up your diet. If it’s a darker yellow or heads more towards a green hue this could be an indicator of a bacterial infection or an STI. You should see a doctor to confirm this, especially if you need to be put on antibiotics.
White: White discharge can be a sign of a completely healthy vagina and a healthy lubricant color. However, the consistency along with the color can change its meaning.
What do the consistencies mean?
Vaginal discharge can change in consistency, just like the color. If the discharge is sticky, almost like egg white consistency, a texture like lotion, or just isn’t there then these are all signs of a healthy vagina!
Thick and chunky discharge, similarly to cottage cheese, is a sign that something abnormal might be going on and you should see a doctor.
What do the odors mean?
In addition to visual aspects of discharge, discharge can have different smells as a warning to tell you something is wrong. Here’s the difference of unhealthy vs healthy odors:
If your vagina has a fermented smell, almost like a sour beer, this is a sign of a healthy vagina! This is due to the slightly acidic PH that your vagina naturally regulates.
If it smells a bit coppery and metallic, this is also ok! This is often due to any traces of blood in the discharge
If it smells chemically, almost like bleach it could mean two things – urine can be the cause of this smell because ammonia can be found in urine and traces can be left in your underwear. (Drink extra water because ammonia smells are often a sign of dehydration) However, this can also be a sign of a bacterial infection.
If your vagina smells a bit fishy, but in a rotten away, and not fresh this is your body trying to tell you something’s wrong. It could be an STI or bacterial infection. A doctor visit will help you figure it out
If the odor smells really bad, and I mean almost unbearable like something went rotten, there’s a really good chance you might’ve forgotten a tampon in there. If this is the case, it’s perfectly safe to remove the tampon on your own and your vagina will regulate itself within days. If there’s no tampon in there you should see a doctor.
When, if ever, do I need to see a doctor?
Overall, if you experience any abnormal smells, colours or consistencies, it’s important to see a doctor. The vagina is a self-cleaning system, so if it naturally starts producing a smell, colour, or consistency that wasn’t described as healthy, then your body is trying to communicate there’s something else it needs. In addition to any of these symptoms, if you ever experience itching and burning, pain, or vaginal bleeding unrelated to your period you should see a doctor because these are also warning signs your vagina flags for you!
Want to learn more? Have other questions about sex, STIs, HIV/AIDS, or contraception? Remember you can chat with Nivi on WhatsApp any time. It’s private, confidential, and free!