Ever wonder if other people can smell your period?
When I was a young teen, I hadn’t quite figured out tampons yet, so I wore pads. I leaked constantly. I’d wear dark pants and wouldn’t even notice I leaked until I got home from school. After the blood dries enough, it starts to take on a very aromatic iron smell.
I remember one instance when I was out to eat with my family, and I spilled ketchup on myself. As the ketchup dried, it started smelling like dried period blood. I was so repulsed by ketchup after this incident; even as a ‘real’ adult, I still have a diversion to ketchup and will only eat it in few circumstances (specifically cheese curds, state fair French fries and corn dogs).
I thought for the longest time that I was the only one who could smell my period, since I never smell it on other people. I was mortified when only a few years ago, I read a comment on Facebook about how some guy could always smell when people were on their periods. There were dozens of responses with a consensus of ‘I can too, I thought everyone could’.
I wanted to take charge of my own vaginal odors, which is one of many reasons I switched to the cup. I’m so sensitive to the smells now that I can tell immediately if I’m ‘overflowing’ or if I inserted it wrong.
So what causes these odors? Are these odors normal? What can I do to prevent my vagina from smelling?
(I am not giving medical advice. If you have any sudden changes in odor, very pronounced odor, other symptoms or you are just worried, please consult your primary care provider.)
Most women suffer from the following three odors at some point in their adulthood: rotten, fishy, metallic. These odors can happen any time during the menstrual cycle, but are sometimes pronounced during and immediately following your period.
My Vagina Smells: Rotten
This is a normal odor as your period marks the shedding of your uterine tissue; however, if you can smell it while sitting or walking, then it may be a cause for concern. This intense odor is often associated with not changing your pad or tampon, or dumping your cup, frequently enough. As your period winds down, you may feel the need to worry about your hygiene less, but this is usually when cups and tampons are left in for too long, resulting in a pungent ‘decay’ odor.
How do I prevent the rotten vaginal odor?
- Change your pad or tampon, or dump your cup, every time you use the toilet, every 4-6 hours, even when your period is light.
- Treat the end of your period just like the rest of your period. Don’t leave tampons in for extended periods of time just because you’re not bleeding much. If your vagina is too dry to insert a tampon frequently, use smaller sizes of tampons so there is less absorbency. If your cup doesn’t slide in as easily, get your cup slightly wet or use lubricant.
My Vagina Smells: Metallic
This is a normal odor during your period. Blood is iron-laden, so it is natural to smell that way, especially if you leak and let it dry. Side note: Don’t forget that women tend to lose iron every month via period blood, so be sure to eat your veggies!
Toward the end of your period, the metallic odor is usually caused by pH changes in your vagina and the discharge containing that different pH. I experienced this issue a lot during the last year that I wore tampons– with tampons, the abnormal pH discharge sits against the vaginal wall, absorbed in the tampon. It’s like if your shoes and socks get wet and you wear them all day– your socks are going to be very aromatic by the time you get home, and every pair of socks you put on inside those wet shoes will smell that way until the shoes aren’t wet anymore.
How do I prevent a metallic vaginal odor?
- Change pad or tampon, or dump your cup, every time you use the toilet.
- Avoid tight pants and tight underwear, especially toward the end of your period.
- Wear cotton underwear, especially toward the end of your period when your vagina needs to ‘breathe’ and balance its pH.
- Use a menstrual cup instead of tampons; as your vagina changes pH during your period, the old pH discharge will be emptied out every time, rather than letting it sit against your vaginal walls soaked into a tampon.
My Vagina Smells: Fishy
Fishy smelling vaginas are common, but not necessarily normal or healthy. If you have a persistent fishy odor, you may be suffering from Bacterial Vaginosis or Trichomoniasis.
Bacterial Vaginosis is not classified as an STD, though it can be caused by sexual activity (with or without a condom), and disruption of the flora in your vagina. BV forms because of bad bacterial growth. You may smell more fishy as you bleed because the bad bacteria will ‘mix’ with your blood as it exits.
Trichomoniasis is classified as an STD, and is caused by sexual activity without a condom. It is best to be treated for this STD by a doctor while avoiding sexual contact during that time. As with BV, you may smell more fishy as you bleed.
At the end of your period, without the heavy blood odor present, the fishy odor may be more prominent as the vagina continues to produce discharge.
How do I prevent a fishy vaginal odor?
- Do not use perfumes or scented washes on your vagina. Do not douche. Ever. Do not wash the inside of your vagina– the inside of your vagina is self cleaning so cleaning inside of it will disrupt the flora and potentially make the odor worse. When using unscented soap, only use it on the outside.
- See a doctor if smell persists, especially when fishy, as it is likely an issue that needs diagnosis from a doctor.
Now that you know other people have the same issues that you may have, hopefully this can help you understand your body a bit better! If you have any suggestions for how to alleviate a certain vaginal odor in a healthful way, feel free to drop it in the comments along with your questions.
About the Author: Steph Carlson
Explorer, entrepreneur, animal whisperer and fitness enthusiast.