If you’ve noticed a fishy vaginal odor, it may mean that something’s, well, fishy. Smells can be a sign of infection or illness—so it’s great that you’re checking.
First things first, a slight aroma from your vagina can be totally normal.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, estrogen stimulates the glands inside your vagina and your cervix—that’s the bridge into your uterus—to produce mucus.
When this mucus exits your vagina, it’s called discharge.
You may notice it as often as every day to a few times a month, especially during ovulation and pregnancy.
Healthy discharge is clear or milky and often has a subtle musky scent.
If, on the other hand, you notice a strong fishy vaginal smell, it may mean that something else is up.
In this article: 📝
- Why do I have a fishy smell?
- What causes fishy vaginal odor?
- Can a man’s sperm make a woman smell fishy?
- How can I get rid of fishy odor?
Why do I have a fishy smell?
If you notice a smell like fish has been left outside of the fridge too long, it’s worth checking in with your GP or gynecologist.
It could mean that you have a bacterial infection or that you have come into contact with parasites that are making you ill.
You may also experience other symptoms, including a discharge that is not clear or milky white, and pain during sex.
It happens. It’s a physical reaction. And there’s no need to feel any shame or weirdness around it. It just may need some attention.
There are a few reasons this might be the case. Here are some possibilities.
What causes fishy vaginal odor?
Here are the major causes:
Bacterial vaginosis (BV)
This is an overgrowth of bacteria in your vagina that leads to inflammation and possibly uncomfortable symptoms.
All vaginas are home to a host of good bacteria that are there to keep things running smoothly.
Sometimes, there’s an overgrowth of certain bacteria, upsetting that healthy balance.
According to the CDC, women aged 15 to 44 are most likely to get BV.
And it’s common—the estimates put the prevalence at about 29% of women in that age group.
The jury’s still out on why exactly this happens, but douching and sex seem to be at the root of most cases.
You can have BV and not experience any symptoms. Other times, it could cause:
- Pain, burning, or itching in and around your vagina.
- White or gray vaginal discharge.
- A burning sensation when you pee.
- And yes, a fishy vagina smell.
This tongue twister of a word (“trich” for short) refers to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by a parasite.
- Pain, itching, or burning in and around your vagina.
- Pain or discomfort when peeing.
- A white, yellow, or greenish discharge that sometimes has a fishy smell.
But you can also have trich with no symptoms at all.
It’s the most common curable STD, with the CDC estimating that there were about two million cases in the U.S. in 2018.
Also an STI, this one is caused by bacteria.
You may experience a thick, yellowy discharge with a fishy odor, as well as pain or burning when you pee and poop.
You might also notice that your periods are heavier or that you are spotting between periods.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
An infection of your reproductive organs (think cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries), PID happens when harmful bacteria in your vagina make their way upwards.
It’s mainly transmitted through sex and can result from STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, as well as from BV.
Symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, irregular bleeding, and vaginal discharge that could have a fishy smell.
Leaving a menstrual cup or tampon inside
It can happen.
And it can be dangerous because it may lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome, where bacteria produce toxins in your bloodstream.
You may experience pain and discomfort, a fever, and a discharge that is yellow, pink, gray, or brown.
If that sounds like your situation, get urgent medical care.
Urinary Tract Infection
This is an infection of any part of the urinary tract, which includes the bladder, the kidney, and the urethra.
To get really specific, it will be your pee that has the fishy smell, not your vagina—but it’s the same general area.
You might experience a strong, frequent desire to pee, a burning sensation when you do, and your pee may be cloudy and strong-smelling.
In serious cases, you might have fatigue, vomiting, and a fever.
Can a man’s sperm make a woman smell fishy?
As we’ve said, our vagina is a self-cleaning system, and it’s perfectly capable of handling semen.
Semen does have a slight odor to it, but it’s often described as smelling slightly like bleach or chlorine.
That said, if your partner’s semen smells fishy, they might also have one of the conditions listed above!
A fishy smell, whether from your partner’s semen or your own vagina, is always something to get checked by a doctor.
How can I get rid of fishy odor?
If you notice a fishy vaginal smell, it’s important to get to your doctor as soon as possible so that they can determine the cause.
They will perform a pelvic exam and possibly do lab tests to determine the source.
The question of how to get rid of vaginal fishy odor depends on the cause. If it is:
- BV. You’ll likely be given antibiotics in pill form or as a cream that you insert into your vagina.
- Trich. Pills that you take orally should do the trick for Trich. It is common to get reinfected. One way to help prevent this from happening is to ensure that your sexual partner is treated for infection as well.
- Gonorrhea. Gonorrhea can be treated with an injection of an antibiotic called ceftriaxone, combined with an oral antibiotic. It’s important for both partners to be treated.
- PID. Because PID is caused by bacteria, it requires antibiotics too. It’s important to get treated as soon as possible.
- Leaving a tampon in too long. It’s important to get to your doctor as soon as possible. If you have Toxic Shock Syndrome, you will need hospital care.
- UTI. Antibiotics are the way to go. Cranberry juice is also a popular choice for treating UTIs. Even though research is not conclusive on this one, unless you have a cranberry allergy, it can’t hurt.
Other tips for dealing with a fishy vagina smell
- Avoid douching unless your doctor tells you otherwise. It can aggravate whatever’s going on and get in the way of your vagina’s natural cleaning system.
- Try unscented soaps, powders, and cleansers. Keeping things simple is the safest.
- Pee after sex to help prevent UTIs. Helps get that bacteria out.
- Wipe front to back. Again, to prevent UTIs.
- Keep hydrated. Generally a good rule, but also helps flush your system.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Your Peanut community is a safe place to do so. Join us.
💡 More from The 411:
What is Squirting?
Vaginal Massage: Benefits and Methods
Swollen Vagina? Causes and Treatments
Boil on Vagina? Causes and Treatments
How to Make Your Vagina Smell Good
Why Do I Have Pain in My Left Ovary?
All You Need to Know About the Clitoral Erection
Should I Be Worried About Vagina Pimples?
What to Do About Ingrown Pubic Hair
VCH Piercing: All You Need to Know About