First things first: Every vagina has an odor. “I tell patients that they are the ones most sensitive to their own smell,” Dr. Bullock tells Refinery29. “Healthy” odors vary per person, she says, but “a ‘fishy’ smell is often a sign of infection — most commonly bacterial vaginosis.”
“A combination of symptoms will tip you off to infection,” Dr. Bullock adds. “Color, smell, and skin changes, like burning or itching, can all give clues as to what is ‘normal’ or ‘not normal.’” Changes in your diet could also be the culprit, including “how much you are drinking and what foods you are eating,” so it’s important to stay mindful.
Finding a damp spot in your underwear can be alarming (or, at the very least, uncomfortable). But this too is nothing to worry about.
After you have a period, estrogen and progesterone levels are low, meaning the vagina is typically dry with little to no discharge, Dr. Bullock says. Once a new cycle ramps up, estrogen increases, which in turn increases the production of clear-white mucus or discharge. During ovulation, discharge is clear and sticky. After ovulation, progesterone increases, which makes the discharge a thicker, white consistency.
Still, it’s important to remember that cycles aren’t always the same, and, likewise, “not every person’s discharge is the same,” Dr. Bullock notes. “Hormonal birth control will typically affect vaginal discharge, sometimes to the point of causing symptomatic vaginal dryness.” Keeping track of your periods will help you become aware of changes.
Discharges that are thick and cottage-cheese-like or watery with a grayish-green tint are associated with a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis, respectively. Both can be easily treated with medication. If you haven’t experienced relief after two weeks and there’s a known exposure to an STD or STI such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis, seek professional care as soon as possible.
Similar to other body parts, the vulva — which is the most external female genitalia — looks different on everyone. Like your shoe size or breast size, “variations are totally normal” when it comes to labia size, Dr. Bullock says. “The only concern for the vulva is if the majora or minora are long enough to cause chafing, dryness, or discomfort.” Under those circumstances, contact your doctor who can then discuss possible solutions.
If you’re concerned about having a “loose vagina,” don’t be — it’s neither a real medical term nor a concern. “The vagina is quite elastic and quite accommodating,” Dr. Bullock says. “We all know it expands to allow for tampons, sex, birth control devices, and, of course, babies.” Although elasticity can decrease after giving birth or with age, according to Dr. Bullock, less elasticity does not mean your vagina’s broken.
Being hairy shouldn’t be scary. In fact, pubic hair serves a great purpose: “decreasing friction during sex,” Dr. Bullock says. A recent study even suggests it can decrease the risk of sexually transmitted infections by creating a physical barrier, although evidence is often self-reported.
Moreover, contrary to popular belief, there’s no real health benefit to grooming, according to Dr. Bullock. If you do choose to groom, just be careful. Dr. Bullock’s advice? “Use professional services [and] sharp razors.”