Fishy Vagina Smell: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Fishy Vagina Smell: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

If you’ve noticed a fishy vagina smell, 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, vaginas have a natural, normal aroma to them.

Vaginas aren’t meant to smell like roses or unicorns.

You will know what smell is normal for your vagina and when that smell is off balance.

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.

So if you’re wondering why things are smelling… off, or even “Can a man’s sperm make a woman smell fishy?”, you’re not alone, and these are totally valid questions.

So let’s find out.

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, sexual health specialist, 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.

What causes fishy vaginal odor?

There are a few reasons for a fishy vagina smell, and the good news is that, more often than not, treatment is available.

Here are some possibilities.

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.


Sorry, what?

This tongue twister of a word (“trich” for short) refers to a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that is caused by a parasite.

Symptoms include:

  • 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 frothy, green/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 an infection in your vagina makes its way upwards.

It’s mainly transmitted through sex and is a result of untreated STIs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, as well as from BV traveling up the female reproductive tract to the womb and fallopian tube.

Symptoms include pain in the lower abdomen, irregular bleeding, and vaginal discharge that could have a fishy smell.

It can affect your fertility ‒ so if you’re TTC or would like to be in the future, it’s worth seeking medical attention as soon as you can.

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 and smells like onions.

If that sounds like your situation, get urgent medical care.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

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 abdominal pain, fatigue, vomiting, and a fever.

Can a man’s sperm make a woman smell fishy?

Could sperm be the culprit here?

Can sperm cause a fishy vagina smell?

No, not likely.

As we’ve said, our vagina is a self-cleaning system, and it’s perfectly capable of handling semen.

Semen does have an odor to it, but it’s often described as smelling slightly like bleach or chlorine.

That being said, if your partner’s semen smells fishy, they might also have one of the conditions listed above ‒ it’s not just something that can affect vaginas!

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. In some cases, it can be combined with an oral antibiotic. It’s important for both partners to be treated, and it’s also recommended to avoid having sex for one week post-treatment. The clinic will arrange a test of cure around six to ten days after.
  • PID. Because PID is caused by infection, it requires medication 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 bacteria from the back end entering the front and causing UTIs.
  • Keep hydrated. Generally a good rule, but also helps flush your system.
  • Try unscented period products. You’d be surprised how many period products, like tampons and pads, are actually scented. And those chemicals can throw off your vaginal pH. So opting for more vagina-friendly period products, like these pads and tampons by Daye can help bring our vagina’s normal fragrance back.
  • Don’t be afraid to talk about it. Your Peanut community is a safe place to do so. Join us.

So if you’re concerned about a fishy vagina smell, don’t panic.

Chances are, it’s nothing that cannot be treated, but it’s important to get it checked with your doctor or a medical professional.

Things down there shouldn’t be smelling off, but if they are, it’s pretty common, and it’s usually totally treatable.

So things should be smelling back to normal soon enough, as long as you get it checked out and treated.

It can be nerve-wracking, but don’t be embarrassed ‒ doctors see this sort of thing all the time, so you’re not alone.

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