Why Does My Vagina Sweat Smell?

Getting sweaty “down there” is normal, but it can cause a bad smell. Especially when you’re on your period, exercising or have recently had sexual intercourse. This odor is caused by bacteria, and a healthy vagina usually has its own unique scent.

It can also change during menstruation, pregnancy and menopause when hormones cause changes in pH levels.

Sweat glands

The groin area is covered in eccrine glands that produce watery sweat to help cool your body down, just like the armpits. But it’s also home to apocrine glands that produce the more odor-producing sweat you might find in your pits, explains Dr. Suzanne Friedler, a dermatologist. The combination of the two types of sweat glands in the groin can cause a smell that’s similar to body odor, but more pungent.

This type of odor is normal, especially after intense exercise or sexual activity when pH levels change, Dr. Wider explains. It can also occur if you eat foods that give off a strong odor, such as garlic or onions.

You can use a cornstarch-based powder that absorbs moisture and odor, such as this one from Vagisil, to keep the area dry. Just be careful not to put it inside the vagina, as doing so can irritate the sensitive tissues, Dr. Parks warns. And it’s important to avoid talcum-based powders, which have been linked to negative health effects in women, including an increased risk of ovarian cancer, she adds.

You can also try wearing loose, breathable underwear, washing with nondrying soap daily, and switching to fabric that wicks away moisture (like cotton) when possible. If the odor persists, though, you may want to consult your gyno for more tips.

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Bacteria

Sweat glands in the groin and external vulva produce a milky sweat that can generate a foul smell when it comes into contact with bacteria. The smell is similar to that of body odor or sweaty gym clothes, especially during workouts. Washing the area regularly with warm water and avoiding soap on the thin tissues of the inner vulva is recommended to eliminate this odor.

A slightly tangy or fermented odor is normal and is caused by the bacteria that dominate your healthy vaginal flora. This bacteria is essential for keeping your vulva acidic and helping to keep bad bacteria at bay.

If the odor is strong, fishy or musty, you may have bacterial vaginitis (BV). This is when the balance of bacteria is disrupted by lubrication, antibiotics or a change in hormone levels like during pregnancy or menstruation. It can also be a sign of sexually transmitted infections such as trichomoniasis. It can be accompanied by itching, burning, swelling or vaginal discharge.

A metallic odor can be the result of blood from menstruation, or if you have sex during your period, it could be from semen passing through the vagina. It can also be a sign of irritation or infection such as a yeast infection, a rectal fistula or rectovaginal fistula which is when the opening between the rectum and bladder leaks feces into the vagina.

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Hormones

Unlike the armpits and scalp, which have eccrine sweat glands, the vulva has apocrine glands that produce thicker sweat that can smell when mixed with bacteria. This sweat is produced as a response to heat and exercise, or it may be triggered by stress for some women.

The odor of the vagina can also be altered by diet, food allergies or hormonal changes. For instance, a fermented odor that mimics the scent of beer or yogurt indicates that there is a high presence of a specific bacteria called lactobacilli. This bacteria helps keep the pH level of your vulva healthy.

Women often notice changes in the odor of their vagina during pregnancy, when their hormones are shifting and the uterus is growing. During this time, there is increased blood flow to the vulva and a change in the pH levels of the flora. These changes can result in new or stronger smells.

After pregnancy, the odor of the vulva can return to its normal smell. However, some women experience a change in their vaginal odor after they stop menstruating or have a urinary tract infection. In these cases, it’s best to see a doctor for evaluation and treatment. The odor of the vulva can also be caused by urine leakage or a medication side effect. Fortunately, most of these causes are nothing to worry about and will resolve on their own.

Excessive sweating

As we all know, heavy sweating, especially in the armpits or forehead, can cause a bad odor. But did you know the groin area has its own set of sweat glands, too? The eccrine glands in the groin and labia majora secrete an odorless, colorless fluid. But when those sweat glands come into contact with the flora of the vagina, they can emit a pungent odor.

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This is a sign that something isn’t quite right, so be sure to call your Moreland OB-GYN or visit the dermatologist if it’s getting out of control. Your doctor will be able to advise you on how to handle the smell, which could mean changing your underwear more often, using non-drying antiperspirant, or switching to cotton underwear.

The groin is home to billions of bacteria and thousands of sweat glands, and these microorganisms work together to keep the area healthy and hygienic. But it’s also normal to sweat down there, just like anywhere else on the body. The key is to keep your vulva clean and dry (change your underwear frequently, don’t wear tight clothing, and avoid fabric that can hold in moisture), maintain a balanced diet full of probiotics, stay hydrated, and see your Moreland OB-GYN annually for wellness visits. And, of course, never use talcum or crotch powder, which can irritate the sensitive mucous membranes in the vulva.

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