8 surprising things that can affect how your vagina smells

Having a vagina is one hell of a responsibility. Sure, it would be nice if we could simply throw on clothing and put it out of sight and mind until we need to use it, but it doesn’t actually work that way. Our vaginas are constantly reminding us that they’re there, and hey, it’s not like we’d want to live without them. The way our vaginas smells is one way they get our attention to let us know that no, they will absolutely not be ignored until we’re ready to have sex, give birth, insert a tampon, or go for an appointment with the gynecologist.

Vaginas are self-cleaning, but they have a pretty tough job to do, in part we often intervene and make it more difficult for them to get the job done. We’re used to hearing about the usual suspects like infections and STIs, but there are actually several other surprising things that can affect how your vagina smells.

1Your diet.

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There are endless health advantages that come with paying close attention to the food we consume, and the vagina’s well-being is no exception. On the surface, it’s confusing to think about a link between your vagina and your diet, but the fact is that certain foods can wreak havoc down there, specifically because what you eat influences your vagina’s pH level, which is acidic when the vagina is healthy. For that reason, spices, onion, asparagus, broccoli, sugar, red meat, and dairy can alter the normal pH level, producing a strange smell down there.

On the other hand, fresh veggies, fruits, whole grains, a lot of water, and especially greek yogurt are major players in helping your bits maintain a pleasant odor.


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If you’ve noticed a correlation between a not-so-pleasant odor floating up from your nether region and your frequent happy hour appearances, you might want to cut back on the drinks. Excessive amounts of alcohol could potentially produce a change in vaginal odor.

3Soaps and detergents.

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Attention, product junkies: Take it easy on the multiple body washes, soaps, and yes, even bath bombs. That expensive body wash is supposed to keep things fresh, but over time, you may have discovered that it is not your vagina’s friend. Certain soaps and detergents can definitely change the way your vagina smells.

As Michael Cackovic, M.D., an OB/GYN at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, explained to Self, “People who use the same soaps and detergents have less of a variation in their scent than people who are changing things often.”


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Nothing ruins a post-sex glow like an unpleasant vaginal odor. Unfortunately, when the high pH of semen collides with the acidity of the vagina, you may experience what is commonly known as the “after-sex smell.”

5Rough sex.

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So your last partner went all Fifty Shades of Grey on you, but the aftermath of some particularly rough sex left your vagina smelling a little bit off. According to Women’s Health, vaginal tears can lead to smells brought on by inflammation, says Darius A. Paduch OB-GYN and director of sexual health at Weill Cornell Medical College.


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Sorry to ruin your workout plans, but if your vagina smells, the culprit could be plain ol’ crotch sweat caused by tight-fitting workout gear that doesn’t give your vagina room to breathe and stay dry. Additionally, hanging out in sweaty clothes for too long could lead to an external yeast infection, which means an itch to go with the odor.

The good news is the problem can be easily avoided by working out in loose-fitting, breathable fabrics like cotton.

7Poor sex toy maintenance.

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This one sounds kind of obvious — if something that touches your vagina isn’t clean or smells bad (most likely, both), then odds are your vag will take on that odor as well. To avoid this, make sure to clean your sex toys regularly, don’t purchase sex toys that are made with harmful materials, avoid using them in multiple orifices, and be sure to store them somewhere clean.

8Your undies.

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When they wrote “The Thong Song,” they might’ve been talking about you. But seriously, if thongs are your go-to underwear, they could be the cause of some pretty gross whiffs from down under. So, you know how the preferred (read: safer) method of wiping is from front to back? Well, thongs work in reverse. As Huffington Post reports, thongs can affect your vaginal health by transporting bacteria from your anus to your vagina or urethra.

That equals smelly — and pretty scary — which is all the more reason we should be extra attentive to what’s going on with our bodies.