I’m going to talk about vaginal discharge. Hey, come on now, don’t go pulling that face, all us girls get it. It’s not dirty, it’s totally normal, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, and without it our vaginas would be feeling really rather sorry for themselves.
You see, vaginal discharge is the female body’s very clever self-cleaning system. Not only does it keep our intimate bits clean, but it also keeps it moisturised and helps prevent infection… as long as the discharge is normal (I’ll talk about that in a bit).
The amount of discharge produced varies from woman to woman and will also depend at what point in your cycle you’re at. Things like being sexually active, pregnancy, if you’re on antibiotics, perimenopause/menopause, your sex drive, and whether you’re on any kind of birth control all play a part in your vaginal health. And it’s not just the amount of discharge, it’s also the type of discharge your vagina emits that can tell you a lot about how your vagina is feeling.
Which is super helpful!
Let’s take a look at what normal vaginal discharge should look like and the things to look out for if you think there might be a problem with yours.
Normal Vaginal Discharge
There’s no base standard of what the ideal vaginal discharge should look like. Which is a good thing, because as if we need another thing to compare ourselves against, right!?! That being said, there are general guidelines as to what’s considered normal and what isn’t.
Normal vaginal discharge could be:
- Thin and clear
- Odour free
- Thick and creamy
I use the term ‘could be’ because of course there are always slight variables. The best thing you can do is to figure out what your normal is. That way, when it changes, you’ll know something’s going on and you can get it checked out.
Things To Look Out For
It’s always a good idea to look at what’s going on in your knickers, or to check the toilet paper once you’ve wiped. I know it might sound a bit grim, but honestly how else are you supposed to know what your normal is if you don’t look?!?
If you notice changes to your discharge, for example in the smell, colour, texture, or amount, it could indicate you’ve got something going on down there. I’m no doctor, so always speak to your GP if you have any concerns, but here are some things that might be cause for concern:
Vaginal discharge shouldn’t smell. On very rare occasions, you may notice a slight smell if you’ve eaten something particularly strong that day (asparagus wee anyone?!?) but on the whole you shouldn’t notice anything whiffy down there. So, if you suddenly start smelling a strong fishy smell coming from your nether region there’s a high chance you’ve got yourself a bacterial infection.
We all carry bacteria in our vagina, and for the most part that’s fine. In fact, the millions of bacteria within our vaginal microflora help keep it clean and healthy. When something happens to upset the balance of this bacteria however, such as having sex with a new partner, douching, excessive cleaning, pregnancy, not using barrier contraception (e.g. a condom), or if you’ve recently been on antibiotics, it can lead to the bad bacteria taking over and this will likely cause an infection, like Bacterial Vaginosis.
Looks Like Cottage Cheese
As mentioned earlier, normal discharge is thin, stretchy and either clear or creamy. If you’re faced with what can only be described as a knickerful of cottage cheese, then you’ve probably got a yeast infection.
Thrush is a common yeast infection, whose symptoms include thick, white discharge, and is often accompanied by itching, and a soreness/stinging sensation when you wee or have sex. Just like bacteria, our vaginas house a certain number of yeast cells to help keep it healthy. Sometimes we have too many of these yeast cells and this results in a yeast infection like thrush.
It’s easily treated with antifungal pessaries or cream, which can be prescribed by your GP or bought over the counter at a pharmacy. If you’ve never had a yeast infection before, it’s worth getting checked out by you GP first, just in case it is something else.
OK so I’m guessing if you’ve pulled your knickers down and your faced with a greeny yellow froth in your gusset, you’re gonna know something’s wrong!?!
Green or yellow discharge is never normal, let’s make that very clear. It is almost always as a result of an STI (Sexually Transmitted Disease) like Chlamydia, Trichomoniasis, or Gonorrhoea. If left untreated, all of these conditions can have serious implications. The good news is they can be easily treated with antibiotics, so it’s time to swallow your embarrassment and get yourself down the docs pronto!
Once you’ve received an official diagnosis that you have an STI, it’s really important you contact all of your recent sexual partners to let them know as there is a high chance they will have it too. Not only will they need to receive treatment, but they will also need to inform any other sexual partners they may have had and use extra protection next time they have sex – even better they and you might be better abstaining until the infection has completely cleared up.
Discharge With Pelvic Pain Or Bleeding
You may notice blood in your discharge or that your discharge looks kind of creamy brown. If you’re getting this at the end of your period, then chances are all’s good, it’s just the last of the period blood making its way out of your system. However, if you get this type of discharge or if you experience bleeding between cycles you should definitely get yourself checked out, especially if you are also experiencing pelvic pain or bleeding.
Discharge With Blisters/Sores
Sometimes it’s not the changes to your discharge that ring alarm bells, but more the accompanying symptoms. For example, if you have Genital Herpes your vaginal discharge is likely to be thick and clear, white, or cloudy. Which if you compare to what normal vaginal discharge looks like doesn’t sound too dissimilar, and so you therefore might not be immediately concerned. However, when the sores start to make an appearance, you’ll soon know there’s something wrong. And this is perhaps another lesson in why it’s so important to recognise what normal vaginal discharge is for you. Always check your pants ladies!
Genital sores are itchy, tender, and produce their own discharge. Found around the vagina, they can sometimes also extend down to the anus, making sitting down very uncomfortable. They can occur at any point and aren’t always as a result of having sex, however they can be caused by STIs that have been left untreated. As with everything else I’ve mentioned, get it looked at if you’re worried.
Almost all cases of abnormal vaginal discharge can be treated, but it is always best to get it treated sooner rather than later to avoid further complictions. If you think your vaginal discharge has changed or if you are in anyway worried about it, go to the doctors. That is what they are there for and trust me they have seen it all before. If you’re feeling a little self-conscious and would prefer to discuss it with a female doctor or nurse, you can request this when you make your appointment.
Worried you might have an STI? Check out Brook for further advice.