I know vaginas are supposed to smell, but my vagina smells so bad that other people notice. They think I don’t shower, but I shower twice a day and change my underwear every day. It’s not fishy, so I don’t think it’s BV. What can I do to get rid of this smell? It is so bad I don’t know what to do, and I am desperate!

First, we’re sorry you’re feeling so self-conscious about how you smell down there. Lots of people get embarrassed about the way their vagina smells, so you’re definitely not alone. It’s completely normal for your vagina to smell, but since you say other people have noticed yours, it sounds like something else might be going on.

Let’s talk about why it smells down there in the first place.

Your vagina is full of (good) bacteria that keep your vagina healthy and happy. When this bacteria mixes with sweat from your groin area though, it makes a musky scent. What exactly it smells like down there, and how strongly, will probably change throughout your life, and depending on the time of the month!

Since the smell is strong enough that other people have noticed, and it’s stressing you out, it sounds like it’s time to talk to your health care provider.

You say you don’t think it’s bacterial vaginosis (BV), but it can be hard to tell on your own what’s going on. Yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other medical conditions can also affect the smell down there. Your health care provider can help you figure out what’s causing your extra-pungent problem, and hopefully get you back to less intense scents before too long.

Learn more about what different vaginal smells mean, what’s normal and what’s not.

In the meantime, here are some other tips:

  • Keep up basic hygiene (like you already are!) by showering and changing your underwear once a day.
  • Don’t douche. This can mess with the bacterial balance in your vagina, put you at risk for infections, irritate your vagina and end up making the smell much stronger.
  • Use a gentle, scent-free soap on the areas where your pubic hair grows, and let water run over the rest of your vulva (or external genitalia). Don’t use soap between your labia, and DEFINITELY don’t use it inside your vagina.
  • Double check that you haven’t forgotten a tampon up there. Leaving in a tampon for longer than recommended doesn’t only put you at risk for toxic shock syndrome, but also traps a whole bunch of bacteria and fluids that can smell pretty nasty. If you have forgotten to take out a tampon and can’t easily get it out, talk to your health care provider. They can remove it safely (and they’ve definitely dealt with this and more before, so there’s no reason to feel embarrassed).
  • Make sure you wipe from front to back. If you don’t, fecal matter can get into the vagina, mess with the bacterial balance, and make the smell worse.
  • Avoid thongs. This kind of underwear moves around throughout the day, and can slide forward to transfer fecal matter to your vagina.
  • Don’t use flavored lubes or flavored condoms for penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. The sugars and chemicals in them can be irritating. Instead, keep your flavored condoms for oral sex (going down on, blow jobs, giving head) and stick with non-flavored condoms for PIV sex.
  • Wear 100% cotton underwear. Synthetic fabrics trap sweat and don’t let your vagina “breathe” like natural fabrics do.
  • It won’t get rid of the scent, but you can use disposable baby wipes during the day to help.

If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC, come to the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center to get free, confidential health care and answers to all your questions about your body!