Woman holding strawberry

Yoxly Awesome Contributors

Written by:

Yoxly Awesome Contributors

Danae Image

Medically Reviewed by:

Dr Danae Maragouthakis

Does something smell off down there? What is your vagina supposed to smell like? Has someone commented on your smell? 

A change in how your vagina smells can be a sign of an infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV), thrush, or a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Worried about how your vagina smells? Well, you’re in the right place! Below we answer five of the most common questions about vaginal odours and give you our top tips for keeping your vagina smelling healthy.

Do vaginas smell?

Yes, it’s safe to say that all vaginas have their own unique scent (and not like roses, as you may have heard). A healthy vagina has a natural odour, which can change throughout your cycle and over the course of your lifetime! Certain things can make a healthy vagina smell more strongly, such as poor hygiene, working out, diet, and variations in your vagina’s pH. 

Your vagina is naturally acidic – a pH between 3.5–5 is normal. This is a good thing, as the acidic environment makes it hard for bad bacteria to grow. Your vagina is home to lots of good bacteria that thrive in the acidic environment and work to protect you from infection.

But what happens when the pH balance is disrupted? That’s when things can start to go wrong, leading to infections and an unpleasant aroma. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause your vagina to smell bad. 

Why does my vagina smell like fish?

A fishy-smelling vagina is often a sign of infection, most commonly bacterial vaginosis (BV).

BV isn’t an STI, although it can be triggered by sex. It’s caused by an imbalance in bacteria, which may be related to sexual activity or over-cleaning of the vagina (especially with scented products). Along with a fishy smell, you may also notice a thin, watery discharge. Read more about BVhere.

A fishy vaginal odour can also be caused by other types of infections, including STIs.Trichomoniasis is an STI that can result in a yellow or green, frothy discharge that smells fishy. You may also notice more vaginal discharge than usual, soreness, itching, and/or pain when urinating.

It can be hard to determine the cause of your problem based on smell alone. If you have an infection, you might not experience all (or even any) of these symptoms! That’s why it’s important you take a test to confirm or exclude STIs and see a healthcare provider about any fishy smells.

Shop Our At-Home STI Test Kits

Test your sexual health from home with our range of at-home STI tests.

Shop Now

Why does my vagina smell like onions/garlic?

Diet can really impact your vaginal odour. If you’re wondering, “Why does my vagina smell like garlic?” there may well be a simple explanation: you’ve been eating garlic! 

A smell of garlic/onion can also become more noticeable after exercising. That’s because a compound that’s released in sweat smells very similar to onions–and there are tons of sweat glands around your groin!

If you’ve been eating a lot of garlic or onions, this is most likely the cause of the smell. However, infections can also cause your vagina to take on an onion-like odour. If you’re worried about a change in smell that doesn’t seem related to diet or exercise, you should speak with a healthcare professional.

Why does my vagina smell after sex?

There are a few reasons for this. As we mentioned earlier, your vagina is acidic, but semen is alkaline. After unprotected sex, semen remains in the vagina. This can temporarily throw off the pH balance and may sometimes lead to BV.

Semen also has an odour, which some people compare to bleach or ammonia. The smell you’re noticing after sex could be related to the mixing of semen and vaginal secretions (or other bodily fluids).

During sex, you and your partner are likely to sweat - especially around the groin, where there are lots of sweat glands that can contribute to an odour after sex.

Finally, using lube (or condoms with lube) can upset your vaginal pH balance and lead to an unpleasant smell. Lubes containing high levels of sugar can also lead to thrush.

To reduce any odours associated with sex, use a condom to protect against infections and shower after you’ve finished to help keep things clean.

What should a vagina smell like?

Your vagina shouldn’t smell like perfume or flowers. It’s an acidic environment full of good bacteria, so it’s normal for it to smell tangy, sour, or musky. Some people compare the scent to sourdough bread or sour beer.

It’s important to note that hormone fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle can also affect how your vagina smells. For example, around your period, your vagina might have a strong or metallic smell. This is usually entirely normal, but regularly changing your towel or tampon can help reduce this.

Then, just before ovulation, when your oestrogen levels are highest, you might notice a stronger vaginal aroma.

Whilst your vagina can have a strong scent without there being an issue, it shouldn’t smell unpleasant. This is usually a sign that something is wrong, and you might need to see a healthcare professional.

How to make your vagina smell nice

Good hygiene is necessary to stop your vagina from smelling unpleasant, although there is such a thing as being “too clean”.

Your vagina needs good bacteria to stay healthy. Cleaning inside the vagina, especially with harsh or scented products, can actually make things worse because you’re also killing the good bacteria and disrupting the pH balance.

Avoid douching or cleaning inside the vagina itself, and only clean the outside (i.e. your vulva) with warm water. Stay away from scented washes - they seem like they’ll improve the smell but can actually damage the sensitive environment of your vagina.

Sexy, lacy pants are fun, but cotton pants are your friend. Cotton allows your vagina to breathe, and the improved airflow helps prevent the area from becoming a breeding ground for excess bacteria.

It might seem obvious, but always wipe front-to-back after going to the toilet. This helps to avoid transferring bacteria from your anus to your vagina.

Many people are self-conscious about their vaginal aroma, in part due to an unrealistic societal expectation for women to always smell great “down there”. The best way to look after your vagina is to practice safe sex and a sensible hygiene routine.

If you’re worried about how your vagina smells, especially if you’ve had unprotected sex with a new partner, take a comprehensive STI test, and consider visiting a healthcare professional for advice. 

Was this blog helpful...?


❗️We'd Love Your Opinion❗️

We're building an app to encourage casual, daily participation in regular sexual self-care. We would greatly appreciate your feedback via a 30-second survey. In return, we will give you FREE access to the app at launch!

Take Our 30 Second Survey

Related Blogs

Yoxly Logo

Yoxly's Awesome Contributors

Yoxly's Awesome Contributors (YACs) are a diverse group of individuals who are passionate about public health, and committed to furthering our mission. Yoxly provides a platform where a variety of sexual health topics (some more awkward than others!) can be explored, in an informative and non-judgmental way. If you'd like to become one of Yoxly's Awesome Contributors, contact us!