health

We need to talk about how a vagina is meant to smell.

As Mother Teresa once said; “Ladies, please leave your goddamn vaginas alone for literally five minutes.”

I… I made this up just a little bit. But Mother Teresa should have said that, because maybe then women in 2017 wouldn’t be putting things in/on/around their vaginas like it’s some kind of hobby.

Currently, it’s Vicks VapoRub. Women are rubbing it all up in their grill in a bid to maintain a pleasant odour. Before that, it was vaginal steaming, as popularised by Gwenyth Paltrow’s lifestyle brand, Goop. Oh – and cucumbers. Sticking one up there is meant to help “flush” the vagina and keep it smelling fresh.

Women are going to incredible lengths to ‘fix’ their vaginal odour. But, um, is there really anything wrong with them in the first place?

LISTEN: Dr Ginni Mansberg shares some vagina wisdom on Mamamia Out Loud. Post continues below. 


I spoke to Dr Ginni Mansberg, a doctor who specialises in women’s health and appeared on Australia’s Embarrassing Bodies, and asked her once and for all what a vagina is actually meant to smell like.

“I can’t tell you you’re going to smell like a rose garden all the time,” she said.

“There’s a lot of things that go into the smell. There are always bacteria in the vulva and they create a protective acid mantle.”

Really, it should smell like, well, skin. And if it’s been a long day, sweat. “You’ll know for you what’s normal,” Dr Mansberg said, “you’re not going to want eau de vagina as your perfume… but you shouldn’t be taking your underpants off and be gagging either.”

In terms of what smells to look out for, older women may notice a bad odour as a result of urine leakage.

If you find that your vagina smells fishy, yeasty, or just generally off, Dr Mansberg says it’s most likely bacterial vaginosis. And the cure is simple.

“The most common cause of a bad smelling vagina,” she told Mamamia, “is an overgrowth of bad bacteria and it normally happens in people who are very clean and use a lot of soap.”

Here’s the rule: If hair doesn’t grow there, don’t wash it with soap.

“If you wash with soap, a standard cheap as chips soap… particularly if it’s got a lot of scent, because soaps are very alkaline, it disrupts the chemistry of the vulva and the vagina and destroys the protective acid mantle that has been put there by the good bacteria, which allows both thrush and bad bacteria to grow.”

If your vagina smells, you're probably washing it too much. Image via Getty.
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And the 'cleaner' you are, the worse the problem gets.

"You find a lot of women fall into the trap of the more smelly they are, the more they wash with soap, the more smelly they are," Dr Mansberg said.

The bacteria in your vagina are your "good friends," she explained, and they are in charge of keeping the bad bacteria that cause thrush at bay.

So, if you think your vagina smells bad, the first thing to do is stop using soap for a week, and see what happens.

"But won't I smell worse!?" I hear you ask. "I have to wash it with something! That's ridiculous."

Well, obviously I asked those questions.

There are special soaps you can buy that are pH balanced, or are clearly labelled lady hygiene products that will not disrupt your vaginal bacteria.

If the smell doesn't improve, visit your GP.

Many women put off seeing their doctor because they're concerned they'll be perceived as "dirty", but Dr Mansberg says the opposite is true.

"I know that if anything you're a little bit too clean."

And for the love of God, don't put anything up there, or smother it with Vicks, unless you want your nether regions to be itchy and inflamed.

Your vagina isn't meant to smell like Chance by Chanel or fresh rain on hot pavement, and we've done a disservice to women by suggesting they should be hairless and odourless at all times.

As Mother Teresa ought to have said, "A vagina is meant to smell like a goddamn vagina. Everyone chill out."

You can listen to the latest episode of Mamamia Out Loud, here. 

You can follow Dr Ginni Mansberg on Facebook, here

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