It’s time to venture into a territory often reserved for close confidants and tackle that niggling question: Can other people smell your discharge?
Hey, no barriers here and definitely no judgment.
Having a vaginal odor is normal—its discharge doing its job.
Everyone has their unique scent, but what does it mean when your discharge is so strong you can smell it through your pants?
Can others smell it, too, and more importantly, should you be worried?
The answer to smelly discharge is often much simpler than you might think.
Surprising, yes, but definitely treatable.
We’re unearthing the real scoop on strong scents emerging from down under, from possible causes to definite solutions.
In this article: 📝
- Can others smell my discharge?
- What does discharge do?
- Why can I smell myself down there?
- Why does my discharge smell through my pants?
- If I can smell myself through my pants, can others?
- How can I stop smelling bad down there?
Can others smell my discharge?
Generally speaking, the odor associated with healthy vaginal discharge is mild and not noticeable to others.
But it can be to you.
And, depending on what stage of your cycle you’re at (or what activities you’ve been engaging in 😏), you may be even more aware of your scent “down there.”
Sex, exercise, diet, and what we wear can all affect how our vaginas smell.
It’s even normal to notice vaginal odor right after bathing.
To appreciate this, it helps to start with the basics.
What does discharge do?
Vaginal discharge is basically a built-in defense mechanism that keeps the vagina clean and healthy.
It’s formed from a collection of “good” bacteria and yeasts that live in the vaginal area.
Known as the vaginal microbiome, this group of microorganisms helps maintain the right vaginal pH levels, protect the vaginal environment from infection, and keep it clean.
And a good thing, too, since your vagina is home to a delicately balanced ecosystem. Seriously.
Your vagina’s ecosystem is finely tuned, highly dynamic, and super sensitive to imbalance by both internal and external influences.
We’re talking things like:
- Dramatic hormonal shifts such as puberty, fertility, pregnancy, and menopause
- The monthly menstrual cycle
- Choice of birth control
- Hygiene practices
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Vaginal infections
- Sexual activity
Through it all, your vaginal discharge works to balance your pH levels and keep infections to a minimum.
And one way it can do that is by flagging to you through smell and appearance that something is off. 🚩
Why can I smell myself down there?
Often, when we talk about the vagina, we’re speaking about the female organs, groin, skin, and vulva collectively—all of which contain sweat glands and bacteria.
Your vagina resides in a pretty, toasty, dark place, so it’s only natural for it to produce an odor.
Especially if you’re sweating heavily, layered up, or fresh from stripping those layers off. 🌶
How do I know if the smell of my discharge is normal?
Most of the time, vaginal smells primarily come down to the natural bacteria flora and yeast that reside there, which can result in a sour, tangy, or even sweet-smelling discharge.
Even a musty vaginal odor is normal.
Do all vaginas have a smell? In short, yes.
But do all vaginas smell the same? No.
Everyone has their own natural smell down there, often influenced by factors like hygiene, hormone levels, and individual physiology.
So far, zero to feel embarrassed about.
It’s when the context no longer fits and the smell is unusually foul that we should be concerned.
And the best way to know this is by tracking your discharge throughout your menstrual cycle and establishing your own personal baseline.
That’s what makes the difference between recognizing your regular sour-smelling discharge from a potential yeast infection smell.
Why does my discharge smell through my pants?
You’re out and about, sitting comfortably, and it hits you: I can smell myself through my pants. 😳
Followed closely by: Can other people smell my discharge??
Being in close proximity to your own body, you’re more likely to notice your own smell compared to others.
So, what does it mean when you can smell your own discharge?
Really, it could be a number of factors behind the intensity of your unique aroma.
Let’s explore them one by one:
1. Hormonal changes
Natural fluctuations in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause, can affect your vaginal smell.
It’s not uncommon for discharge after a period to smell like copper and pennies.
Little research has been done in this area, but it’s believed foods like garlic, onion, asparagus, and curries could alter your vagina’s odor.
Really, the connections seem to be down to food’s impact on the surrounding sweat glands and urine.
Still, one study did find that high-fat content could elevate vaginal pH levels (increasing the risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV)).
Engaging in physical activity can increase sweat production, which, when mixed with the bacteria on our skin, develops an odor.
And this can intensify in the vaginal area thanks to the variety of bacteria and yeasts that form the vaginal microbiome.
Always ensure that leggings are washed regularly, as sweat can easily build up and cause potential BV issues.
Sweating may also affect your vaginal pH levels, resulting in a notable scent to your discharge.
4. Hygiene practices
Regularly skipping showers or fresh underwear can lead to a build-up of dead skin cells and sweat.
But let’s be clear: Rarely is neglecting our body’s cleanliness and health an intentional, positive choice, and it can often lead to hygiene-related diseases.
Poor mental health, poverty, grief, and a high-stress lifestyle are just some of the reasons why our hygiene can take a backseat.
So, if you do recognize more obvious signs that your hygiene needs help—be it smelly underwear or unpleasant body odor—take it as a sign your overall well-being needs support.
Equally, while it is essential to maintain good hygiene, over-washing the vaginal area can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria, possibly leading to a stronger odor.
Vaginal douching specifically is known for increasing the risk of vaginal infections
5. Stuck tampon
When an inserted tampon stays in for longer than recommended, it creates the perfect environment for bacteria to grow, potentially leading to infection and a noticeable onion odor.
No judgment here—it’s not uncommon to forget about a tampon, especially during a hectic day or at the end of your period.
But it is important to remove a trapped tampon as soon as possible to prevent further complications such as Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
And if you are struggling with your menstrual hygiene, it might help to switch up your practices.
Switch to pads or enlist period underwear to encourage regular changing.
6. Having sex
Let’s just get right in there.
During sex, a variety of fluids are introduced into the vaginal environment, potentially affecting its pH balance and microbial community.
The intermingling of semen, vaginal fluids, and any lubricants used can create a unique odor profile that might differ significantly from your natural scent.
And sometimes, sex can lead to bacterial vaginosis because of the upset to the delicate balance of your vaginal microbiome (don’t worry, it’s not contagious).
Not to mention the increase in sweat caused by more enthusiastic sex moves. 🤸♀️
And then there’s the other risk that can come with a thriving sex life. 👇
7. Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
Ah, the not-so-sexy side of sexual exploration.
Certain STIs can change the odor of your vaginal discharge, signaling that something is amiss (a good thing, mind).
For example, trichomoniasis (or “trich”)—a common STI caused by a parasite—can give your discharge a foul or fishy smell.
This can be joined by vaginal itching, pain when you pee, and pelvic pain.
As common and highly treatable as trich is, it’s often underdiagnosed and men tend to be asymptomatic.
If you do notice a persistent, foul-smelling discharge that is frothy and yellow or green in color, seek medical treatment promptly (and let your sexual partner know).
No shame in prioritizing your sexual health.
8. Urinary tract infection (UTI)
A UTI is basically an infection in your urinary system that happens when bacteria from your rectum enter your urethra.
It can cause changes in the urine itself, leading to a stronger or more pungent urine smell.
And this altered urine smell can sometimes influence change in discharge smell, given the close proximity of the urinary tract to the vaginal area.
If you’re experiencing the telltale symptom of peeing little but more frequently, this build-up of pee in your underwear or around your vulva may cause your discharge to smell like bleach.
Expert top tip: Urinate after you have sex to ensure that any bacteria that may have wandered into your urethra is flushed out. This prevents the onset of UTIs.
9. Bacterial vaginosis
BV happens when there’s an imbalance in the natural bacteria found in your vagina.
Basically, the good bacteria decrease, and the “less-savory” bacteria increase, sometimes leading to a grey or greenish discharge with a foul fishy smell that’s more pronounced after sex or during your period.
Again, zero shame—BV is one of the most common causes of abnormal discharge, and it’s also highly treatable.
Just another affirmation that if you notice a persistent change in your vaginal smell, it might be a signal from your body to pay attention (not run for the hills).
Can other people smell BV?
The majority of the time, we tend to notice our more unpleasant odors because we’re so self-conscious about them.
The same goes for the smelly discharge that comes with BV.
Outside of seriously intimate encounters, it’s unlikely that people around you will notice.
That doesn’t mean you should skip that doctor’s appointment, though. 🩺
If I can smell myself through my pants, can others?
It’s unlikely that someone can smell your discharge during the normal course of a day.
But, it’s not entirely impossible in close proximity or intimate situations, especially if the odor is stronger than usual due to infection or other medical conditions.
If you notice your discharge smells stronger or more unpleasant and comes with an abnormal color or consistency, it could be a sign of infection or another medical issue.
It’s a good time to have a chat with your doctor so they can help identify if there is any underlying issue that needs attention.
Consider it a rule of thumb: if you’re worried about how your vagina smells through your pants, it’s time to get a medical opinion.
Can other people smell my period?
Shedding of the uterine lining during your menstrual cycle naturally comes with a distinct scent.
It’s a result of the blood and tissue exiting your body, combined with the natural bacteria present in the vagina.
The discharge smell can vary from person to person but is often described as slightly metallic (due to the presence of blood).
Still, the odor associated with your period is typically quite mild and is not readily detectable by others around you.
Research has shown that sensitivity to smell can increase during menstruation before peaking at the end of the cycle.
So, it’s possible that you’re more aware of your own scent, potentially giving rise to concerns that others might notice it too.
Rest assured, what you are experiencing is a very personal sensory perception, more pronounced to you than to others.
How to stop bad period smell?
Maintaining good hygiene during your period is key, but so is knowing how to clean your vagina safely.
As tempting as it is, avoid cleaning inside your vagina and stick to gently washing the vulva only.
Regular changing of sanitary products can also help manage any odors and keep you feeling fresh and comfortable.
If the foul-smelling discharge continues and comes with a grey or green hue, consult with your doctor about a potential BV infection.
How can I stop smelling bad down there?
Before we get into how to get rid of vaginal odor at home, we encourage you to investigate the potential causes.
Absolutely, adopting hygiene practices that promote a healthy vaginal environment is ideal.
But so is handling vaginal infections and STIs before they lead to any potential long-term issues.
Here are some steps you can take to keep odors at bay:
- Maintain proper hygiene: Regularly clean the vaginal area gently with water, avoiding harsh soaps or scented products that can disturb the natural pH balance.
- Stay hydrated: A good move in general, drinking water can help reduce the strong odor of urine.
- Wear breathable fabrics: Opt for underwear made from cotton to reduce moisture buildup, which can be a breeding ground for odor-causing bacteria.
- Change sanitary products regularly: During your period, change your sanitary products frequently to manage odors effectively. The same goes for panty liners and postpartum pads.
- Consult a mental health professional: If you’re struggling to take care of your physical well-being, it may be time to receive professional support. Consider it your body backing you to get help.
- Talk to your doctor: Again, before trying home remedies, enlist your healthcare provider to identify and treat any underlying issues.
Remember, everyone has a unique body odor, and it is completely normal.
The goal isn’t to eliminate your vaginal smell but to manage unpleasant or strong odors that make you uncomfortable.
It’s all about finding a balance that works for you and embracing your body’s natural processes with confidence and ease. 🧘♀️
Smelling yourself when you open your legs or even through your pants sometimes is a common experience shared by many.
And while it can be nothing to worry about, it’s always a good call to stay tuned into your body’s signals and to seek medical advice.
Especially if you notice any persistent changes or if you feel concerned for any reason.
It’s all about staying healthy and feeling comfortable in your own skin.