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Can Semen Cause Vaginal Odour After Sex?

How should a vagina smell?

To help answer ashley73242's question, it is firstly important to understand what is a 'normal' smell for a vagina. A healthy vagina is never odour-free. It is completely normal for your vagina to have a natural scent that is individual to you.

Your vagina is a carefully balanced ecosystem and will normally be host to a community of 'good' bacteria. One of the main bacteria is called Lactobacillus, similar to the type found in 'live' yoghurts. In return for its home, Lactobacillus generates lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This keeps vaginal pH at an optimal range of 3.5-4.5. These acidic conditions act as a disinfectant and discourage less welcome bacteria from causing infections. It is these natural bacteria that can contribute to a vagina's natural scent.

Vaginal odour and sex

Like the armpits, the groin has a high concentration of sweat glands. During exercise and sexual activity, it is normal for the genitals to get sweaty and this may contribute to a more prominent vaginal odour.

If you have noticed a strong vaginal odour after sex that is more than can be attributed to sweaty genitals, it's possible you could have an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV occurs when the balance in that all-important vaginal ecosystem is disturbed, allowing a bacterium called Gardnerella vaginosis to thrive. The infection causes a thin, grey discharge with a fishy odour that is more pungent when in contact with semen. Your GP can help diagnose this and administer treatment.

Is it definitely me?

After a male has ejaculated into the vagina, most semen will either seep out or dry up. It certainly won't 'rot' inside you. The vagina is self-cleaning organ, and any remaining semen will exit the body via a women's discharge. Sperm can survive for a maximum of five days inside the vagina.

Other odour culprits

Other factors may affect a vagina's smell, without meaning that there is something wrong with your hygiene or vaginal health. This might include:

Hormonal changes

Vaginal odour may vary in response to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause.

Medication

Hormonal treatment such as the contraceptive pill and antihistamines can dry the vagina out and change its odour.

Diet

Mainly anecdotal evidence has suggested that vaginal odour may change with certain foods, such as garlic, onions and strong spices.

Other causes of an abnormal vaginal odour, particularly if accompanied by symptoms such as an itchy or irritated vagina or a change in discharge, may require investigating with you GP. Potential causes include:

  • Poor hygiene.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • A forgotten tampon.
  • Thrush infection.
  • Rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal connection between the vagina and the rectum, most commonly due to bowel problems like inflammatory bowel disease, childbirth-related injuries, cancer or cancer treatments such as radiotherapy).
  • Vaginal and cervical cancer.

The dangers of over-cleaning

Ashley73242 was right when she mentioned that 'douching" isn't good for your vagina.

We are often bombarded with adverts for feminine hygiene products encouraging you to keep your vagina clean and smelling like flowers. This can send damaging messages to women that the vagina is unhygienic and needs regular cleaning. Both are nonsense.

Your vagina is self-cleaning, and using feminine hygiene products can affect your natural microbiome, leaving you more susceptible to vaginal infections (and accompanying bad odours). A recent study demonstrated that women using feminine hygiene products or douches were more likely to have BV, yeast infections, sexually transmitted infections and UTIs.

Avoid all the expensive (and sometimes harmful) products and simply adhere to the following advice to keep your vaginal healthy:

  • Wipe front to back when going to the loo.
  • Wash your external vaginal area with water or a mild soap when in the shower.
  • Avoid harsh or irritant soaps.
  • Don't douche.
  • Wear loose-fitting, breathable cotton underwear.
  • When menstruating, change tampons and sanitary pads every few hours.

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