Odor down under? Don't sweat it
Published: Wednesday, November 20, 2002
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 20:07
Dear Dr. Sex:
My girlfriend and I have been going out for about a year now and we both engage in oral sex. My question lies in the characteristics/causes of feminine odor.
Whenever I perform cunnilingus on her, her vagina has a very potent smell that I cannot stand. I am worried that she might have some sort of infection. She gets a gynecological exam once every six months or so, and she claims to have a clean bill of health. Should the vagina be odorless? On past girlfriends, I have performed oral sex and they have had no real smell ... that I can remember. The only thing I can really compare her smell to is B.O., or even a fishy smell. Is this normal? Would douching clear this up? I have heard that douching is not healthy and I would never want her to do anything that would jeopardize her health. I feel bad because I want to give her pleasure, but the smell is more than I can stand. Do you have any answers?
Signed, Almost Unbearable
Dear Almost Unbearable:
You raise some really good points and you were rather respectful in your choice of words used, which is more than I can say for others who have wondered about vaginal odor.
First you asked if she should be odorless and the answer is, "No." Most women have some odor and each woman's odor, taste and fluids are unique. Some women have a pungent odor like the one you are describing. This could be her natural odor. Your description of her odor as being like B.O. or a fishy smell is indicative of two things: either she has an infection or she has vaginal bacterial overgrowth known as bacterial vaginosis. Infections can be caused by several factors. Most people first think of a sexually transmitted infection. That is an option, but it could also just be a vaginal infection that was not sexually acquired, like trichomonas vaginalis for example.
The vagina could also smell "yeasty" because of vaginal yeast overgrowths. Some women develop vaginal bacterial overgrowth known from wearing tight or damp clothing, particularly those made of synthetic material (e.g., nylon pantyhose) that does not allow the area around the vulva to breathe. Finally, some women respond negatively to semen in the vagina so that after intercourse the odor is very different.
If your girlfriend is being honest when she says she has been given a clean bill of health, however, then it probably is not an infection. If it is not an infection, it may be vaginal bacterial overgrowth. Here are some suggestions for her and other women in her position to help deal with vaginal bacterial overgrowth:
-- Wash the external genitalia with mild, unscented, antibacterial soap. Do not wash inside the vagina.
-- As much as possible, wear cotton underwear. Be sure to wear cotton outerwear, especially while exercising.
-- Do not wear anything on your lower half when sleeping. This means underwear, boxer shorts, pajama bottoms. This gives the vagina a chance to dry out. Bacteria love warm, moist environments and if you do not give your vagina a chance to breathe, the bacteria will continue to flourish.
-- Do not use anything identified as "deodorant" on the skin of the genitalia. These products on the market like Feminine Deodorant spray or deodorant tampons are making vaginal odor worse. The chemicals used to make the products just aggravate vaginal tissue and cause the vagina to produce even more moisture in an attempt to get rid of the chemicals. And if that is not bad enough, these deodorant sprays and related products have been linked to cervical cancer.
-- Finally, DO NOT douche, unless it is under the supervision of a health care provider. Douches, like the products I described above, only make matters worse. And if that is not bad enough, douches have been liked to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID).
A final possible cause for her odor may be excessive sweating. Most people do not think about it, but the pubic hair can cause a woman or a man to sweat. Applying cornstarch can help control moisture and odor, temporarily. Another thing that can be done to reduce genital sweating is to stay clear of diets that are too high in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. All of these contribute to the problem. Your girlfriend may just be one of those women who need to bathe twice a day. It is not that unusual. Just think about the men who have to shave twice a day.
Now that I have explained what might be causing the odor and how she might deal with it, here is a tip for you. Incorporate bathing into your foreplay. Bathing can be a very sensuous experience and if you bath together, you can be sure she is clean and fresh and ready for sexual activity.
Dr. Kathy Greaves is on faculty at OSU in the department of human development and family sciences. The opinions in her columns, which appear every Wednesday, do not necessarily represent those of The Barometer staff. Dr. Greaves can be reached at email@example.com, or by placing questions in the box at the MU information desk. All questions submitted to Dr. Greaves are subject to being answered in her Dr. Sex column.