Vaginal discharge can be an awkward topic to bring up with your friends or even mom. But vaginal discharge is a completely normal function of the body, and a vital way of keeping your vagina clean, protected, and healthy.
“The purpose of discharge is to keep the vagina healthy by cleaning, moisturizing, and preventing infections,” says Dr. Stephanie Wyckoff, OB/GYN at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California. In addition to keeping things balanced, vaginal discharge can also alert you when something’s not quite right down there. How do you know whether your discharge is normal, or if it might be a good idea to schedule an appointment with your gyno? Below, we break down everything you need to know about the different types of vaginal discharge.
What is vaginal discharge?
“Vaginal discharge is any type of secretion that comes out of the vaginal area,” says Dr. Lakeisha Richardson, OB/GYN and consultant for the Know Your Birth Control campaign. It’s a way to keep your vagina clean and healthy, so you don’t have to do much when it comes to maintenance. That means there’s no need to douche, or use feminine products specifically designed to wash your vagina. Your body does that work for you, and the products could result in an infection, or overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Only use mild soap and water to keep your vagina clean, the Cleveland Clinic advises.
“The vagina is self-cleaning and does not need to be washed out,” Dr. Tessa Commers, FAAP, Head of Medical Education at Julie Products, Inc., explains. “In fact, studies have shown that flushing the vagina with water or other fluids (douching) can disrupt its natural acidic environment and cause some pretty bad effects, including yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and vaginal dryness.”
How much discharge is normal?
Vaginal secretion varies from person to person. The amount you discharge depends on your hormones, what point you’re at in your menstrual cycle, your sex drive, and how sexually active you are. According to Dr. Richardson, if you’re on birth control or “aroused throughout the day — even if you’re not sexually active — you may have more discharge, or more vaginal moisture.” On the other end of the spectrum, if you don’t experience vaginal secretion that often, that’s normal too.
What do different types of vaginal discharge mean?
There are a few different types of vaginal discharge, which vary in color, consistency, and smell. Some are normal, while others are common indicators of an infection or other problem and require a visit to your doctor. Keep reading for a comprehensive explanation of each type of vaginal secretion.
1. Thin and clear
“Clear or watery discharge is normal,” Dr. Richardson says. If it’s a little cloudy, that’s fine too. Depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle, your vaginal discharge may be a little thicker, but the key is that it’s mostly clear. It shouldn’t have a strong, funky odor.
2. Stringy or stretchy
“Around day 14 of your cycle, you may notice a discharge the consistency of egg whites,” Sherry Ross, MD, an OB/GYN and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health, says. This is a normal part of your cycle, but heads up — it typically means you are ovulating (the slippery texture helps sperm swim to the cervix), so if you’re sexually active, make sure you are being extra careful with protection, and either using condoms, some form of contraception, or both.
3. Thicker than usual
If you are not having any other symptoms, like a strong odor or itchiness or discomfort down there, thicker-than-usual discharge typically indicates that you’re nearing the end of your cycle. “Discharge usually increases in thickness during the second half of your cycle,” Dr. Wyckoff says.
4. Super heavy
It’s normal to see a little more discharge near the end of your cycle, and if you’re taking hormonal birth control or are sexually active, that can make it heavier too. But there are a few other possible causes for the excess moistness — like an infection, a lost tampon, or a reaction to a new soap. If the amount of discharge is bothering you or seems to be present much more than usual, let your doctor know.
5. Brown or bloody
If your period just ended, brown or bloody discharge is likely leftover blood. But if you have random mid-month spotting, talk to your gynecologist — they can help you figure out what might be causing it. “Brownish or blood-tinged vaginal discharge could be from a vaginal infection, a lost tampon, an ovarian cyst, or something within the uterus like a polyp,” Dr. Ross says.
6. White and clumpy
A thick, white discharge with the texture of cottage cheese is a common symptom of a, which occurs when the levels of yeast in your vagina are off-balance. Let your doctor know — especially if you have other symptoms like an itchy vagina, irritated labia, or pain when you pee. The good news? “Yeast infections are easily treated,” Dr. Wyckoff says. Your doctor will likely prescribe an anti-fungal medication that will clear up your symptoms in a few days.
7. Yellow or green
Discharge can become slightly discolored when it hits the air, so if you notice some sticky, pale-yellow discharge in your undies — and know that you’re about to get your period — that’s okay. But if your discharge is a thick yellow or green, it could be a sign of an infection — even a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia or gonorrhea. If your discharge is green and smells fishy, that could be bacterial vaginosis, which, like a yeast infection, occurs when the bacteria in your vagina is off-balance. Either way, your gyno can do a few quick tests to see what’s going on, and if needed, prescribe antibiotics.
“A strong, foul, fishy odor with a thin, grayish-white discharge is a classic symptom of a bacterial infection,” Dr. Wyckoff says. Not every vaginal odor is caused by an infection, but if you have other symptoms like pain in the pelvic area and during urination, and itching around the genital area, it’s definitely worth a trip to the gyno.
It’s okay if you don't have much discharge at all — everyone’s body is different. “As long as you’re not experiencing any other unusual symptoms, your vagina is completely normal,” Dr. Ross says. If the dryness is making you uncomfortable or irritated down there though, let your gyno know.
You Might Also Like