How Your Vagina Is Supposed to Smell

We asked an expert what's considered "normal."

by Bethy Squires
Apr 8 2016, 3:05pm

Brandon Bird

Let me turn my chair around and sit in it backwards. Guys, let's rap. I think it was Leo Tolstoy who said, "All happy families are alike, but every puss is stank in its own way."

In other words, vaginas are supposed to have a smell. According to a one study, there are 2,100 separate "odiferous effluents" (translation: scent molecules) that compose the smell of a vagina, meaning each vagina's unique bouquet is made of many—in the words of the study—"mini-odors."

The main thing causing these mini-odors? Bacteria.

"Any smell you have is a combination of what the human metabolizes and what the bacteria metabolizes," says Dr. Maria Mendes Soares of the Mayo Clinic. You are what you eat, as the saying goes, and apparently your vagina also smells like what you eat. Several women on Reddit mentioned in a recent post that when they eat onions or garlic, their vulva takes on a similar scent. It's perfectly normal—you're just secreting. While there maybe some odor in your vaginal discharge, the garlic or onion smell is but it's likely coming from your urethra, since those foods make your pee smell that way, too.

Read More: Men Explain Why They Don't Eat Pussy

What about in general? How should your vagina smell most of the time? Like your stomach and your mouth, your vagina is home to billions of bacteria. The bacteria to which Dr. Mendes Soares refer are called the vaginal flora, or vaginal microbiota. The vaginal flora work to keep your vagina's pH at 4.5, or slightly acidic. It's likely that your vagina has a slightly sour smell. There will also most likely be a slight musty smell, from sweat that builds up in the nooks and crannies of the human body. Neither of these smells should be overpowering. In a blog post on WebMD, Dr. Heather Rupe says you should be able to smell a vagina from one foot away.

That's normal.

This is not to say that all vaginal odors are normal. If you actually smell like fish, it is a sign of bacterial vaginosis, and you should go set a watchman down there. If your vagina smells rotten, there may be a tampon or tampon bits lodged deep within. See a doctor; they've dealt with it before.

According to Dr. Mendes Soares, the majority of vaginas are primarily colonized by a species of lactobacillus. Lactobacillus is one of the "probiotic" bacteria; they need to be in your gut and vagina to stop more serious disease-causing pathogens from taking hold. There may be other bacteria in the mix, but four out of five vaginas are "90 to 95 percent one species of lactobacillus. Lactobacillus ferments sugars into lactic acid, which helps to keep the vagina ever-so-slightly acidic. Some beers and yogurts are cultured with lactobacillus. Beer aficionados describe the taste of lactic acid as "a soft pleasant sourness," and beers that are fermented with lactobacillus have a characteristic subtle mustiness.

You're probably asking yourself: "If lactobacillus is used to ferment beer and yogurt, have people used vagina bacteria to make these things?"

The answer is yes, of course.

A University of Wisconsin PhD student made her own probiotic yogurt using her personal vaginal flora as the starter. Doing this at home is not advisable, since you can't separate your good bacteria from your bad in a non-microbiology lab setting. A Polish brewing company called, The Order of Yoni, have made Bottled Instinct, a sour ale fermented via vagina. The lactobacillus for Bottled Instinct was gathered from one woman, Czech model Alexandra Brendlova, who has bona fide credentials avowing her cleanliness and moral purity. They are currently looking for funding on their IndieGogo.

So if your boyfriend is a beer drinker but complains about going down on you, tell him he can sit on a bottle of Bud Light and spin.

Image via Flickr/bec.w


Ask-Hole is a regular column in which Broadly investigates questions you probably already knew the answers to, but we didn't, so here it is. Do you have a question about honestly anything at all? Ask us about it.