October 15 2020 | Written by Madi Hanaka
I still remember the first time I heard someone joke about vaginal odor. I was in middle school, and all of the boys in my class were singing along to “Colt 45” by Afroman. If you’re familiar with this song already, well, my sincerest apologies. However, if you’re not, I’ll spare you the details of the lyrics in their entirety because they’re very graphic and highly offensive. For the sake of this blog, however, I will draw your attention to the interlude of the song. The intro to the first verse goes like this:
Knowing this long list of frightening effects, it’s fair to wonder: why are these products still on the market? And, more importantly, why do up to 40 percent of womxn use them regularly? The answer to this question is complicated and it relates closely to cultural beliefs about womxn and their bodies. Feminine hygiene companies aren’t clueless. They are well aware that womxn have been continuously shamed for their bodies, whether it be related to menstruation, discharge, or other bodily functions. By spreading the message that vaginas are inherently gross, this industry reinforces our insecurities and then simultaneously pushes products in front of us as solutions to our “problems”.
As stated by Sherry Ross, an obstetrician-gynecologist, “your vagina is not meant to smell like a rose garden”. Instead, a few more common descriptions are metallic, sweet, sour, salty etc. What’s considered to be a “normal” smelling vagina is going to be different from person to person, so it’s tricky to come up with a description of how exactly your vagina “should” smell. A better way to look at it, according to Dr. Ross, is to get to know what your normal is, then you will likely be aware if there are sudden changes.
In some cases, vaginal odor can be an indicator of a medical abnormality. For example, gynecologist Jen Gunter states that there can be a variety of causes for vaginal odor such as:
genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM)
desquamative inflammatory vaginitis (DIV)
a retained tampon or foreign object
skin conditions like lichen planus or lichen sclerosis
(The Vagina Bible, Jen Gunter, pg. 358)
If you believe that you have a persistent odor then it’s good practice to seek a professional medical opinion in order to get a diagnosis. But let’s make one thing clear: your vagina cleans itself - it does not need any help.
It can be difficult to remind yourself that these insecurities are simply a product of many years of brainwashing from misogynistic media, but for the sake of your vaginal health it is incredibly important to keep this in mind! Your vagina is not inherently dirty, gross, or fishy. Save your money, energy, time, and sanity, and let your vagina work its magic and clean itself for you!