Alright, I think it’s about time we shatter one very unnecessary taboo surrounding vaginas since society seems more than happy to suggest what should or should not go into them, including what goes in and has a discharge of its own (yes, I’m talking about penises) What’s the saying again, ‘all is fair in love and war?’ Let’s be one hundred per cent transparent then, let’s talk about vaginal discharge, what it is, why it is, and how to understand what it’s telling you.
After a Twitter thread initially sparked by someone who posted a photo of her seemingly unworn, bone dry underpants “after an 8-hour shift” went viral, I decided to elaborate on the real conversation here, which is surprisingly not why a post like this entertains anyone in the first place, but the ins and outs out of humanly common taboos.
Vaginal discharge is part of life, everyday life. Most of us don’t actually think twice about it, it’s that common, and yet, it’s still not a topic of conversation. Especially across genders, it took society long enough to say that girls poop, fart and burp just like the rest of the bodies out there. Periods are ‘finally’ worth celebrating, and it’s about bloody time! Now, let’s get into what else goes on with our precious womanly cycles because if blood is not staining our knickers, something just as important is.
Vaginal discharge comes from glands inside our vaginas and cervix. These glands produce small amounts of fluid called discharge and also known as vaginal secretions. This special fluid cleanses out old cells that lined the vagina, keeping it healthy.
Vaginas are a dynamic and finely tuned ecosystem that offer each of us a specific balance of bacteria, pH and moisture. This balance is delicate, and especially sensitive to changes from within and outside of your body. Because of this, its balance can be thrown off kilter rather quickly.
The discharge varies from woman to woman—where some will experience heavy flows, others won’t notice much, if any, at all. The fluid will also change over the course of a woman’s menstrual cycle, and if paid attention to, will be able to teach you more on how your body is feeling internally. For example, the type of discharge that one may experience can be a sign of an imbalance of bacteria, an infection, or an STI. Basically, it’ll tell you if there is something that you need to go and get checked out medically.
The fluid can change in texture, colour or smell over the course of a cycle. In fact, it can tell you exactly what part of your menstrual cycle you may be experiencing. The fluid can also trigger other symptoms such as irritation, itchiness or burning around the vagina. The combination of these factors can actually signal what exactly might be bothering your body, and how to help it.
Regarding the Twitter feed we linked you to above, the woman was seemingly experiencing a bit of a dry spell, and that’s saying something. According to the researchers behind period and hormone tracker app Clue, the hormone estrogen is what helps keep the vagina moist as well as maintain the thickness of the vaginal lining. Atrophic Vaginitis is a common condition that may occur if the ovaries produce a decreased amount of estrogen—a symptom of which is vaginal dryness.
There are certain times when our bodies produce less estrogen, when a woman reaches menopause for example. Or, after having a baby. It can also have something to do with a medication that you’re taking. If you experience vaginal dryness along with the lack of desire, you might be experiencing low libido (sex drive). Sexual desires are influenced by some of the same hormones that fluctuate with your cycle, estrogen, but also progesterone.
Sexual desire tends to increase in the days leading up to ovulation, when you are your most fertile, and may decrease once ovulation has passed in the cycle. Either way, there are many sexual lubricants out there that are worth lathering up with if you care to try. There’s no shame in it, and for some it feels better than the real thing.
One thing to note is that no matter what your vaginal discharge looks like, there’s a valuable reason behind it. That’s why douching (cleaning out your vagina with water or soap) represents a massive no-no. Just use protection when you’re having sex, remember to pee afterwards, and you’ll be just peachy (pun intended).
Vaginal discharge will change along with your body’s production of cervical fluid, as well as your menstrual cycle, at the beginning of which it tends to be slightly dryer. In the first phase of your cycle it might begin to get a little creamy and white in colour and texture, then just before ovulation it’s likely to resemble transparent egg white, and so the cycle continues back to being a little dryer.
Typically, the fluid will have no-to-minimal smell, and it’s not unpleasant. Getting to know your own smell is important for identifying changes in your body, so pay attention to everything. Consistency, colour and volume are also things to look out for.
Remember, everything is common and there is nothing to be embarrassed about. If you do find something a little ‘off’ there’s a way to find out what it might be, so you can treat it as soon as possible. For example, if your discharge is grayish or smells a little fishy, you might have bacterial vaginosis. This might go along with genital pains or itching, but don’t worry if you’re experiencing some of these symptoms, just go and see a healthcare practitioner and they’ll sort it out.
Yeast infections might provide thick white or chunky discharge, and there’s usually an over-the-counter yeast treatment—always ask a professional before starting a medication though. Vaginal discharge can also turn yellowish and smell bad, which can tell you there really is something worth checking out. It’s always worth it, so promise yourself you’ll do that, okay babes?
Things like antibiotics, which kill off bacteria (even the good kind) will alter your vaginal health, and the same applies to hormonal birth controls such as the pill or Intrauterine devices (IUDs). Also, what you eat or whether you smoke can play a part in your cycle too. Everything is relative in our bodies, so listen and take care of it. But just as importantly, talk about it!
The wellness industry is thriving, for better or for worse, and with it, various vaginal products are appearing on the market. While some products are used to ease menstrual pain or increase sexual healing through pleasure, others are sold purely for the purpose of ‘finessing’ our genitals. Why is this trend happening now and how much of a problem is it?
Of course, this is not the first time that women are being targeted with false and unnecessary health advice. Gwyneth Paltrow, also known as the mastermind behind GOOP, recommended vagina steaming in order to balance hormone levels and cleanse the uterus, which gynaecologists strongly advise against.
A few years ago a new trend appeared that advised women to peel a full cucumber and penetrate themselves with it—not for the purpose of pleasure, but to ‘reduce odour’ and add ‘moisture’. Health professionals were quick to point out that this practice can actually lead to a number of diseases. In other words, your vagina does not need a ‘cleanse’, and unless a medical professional examined you and told you otherwise, basic hygiene should be enough.
Recently, there has been a worrying increase in various products being sold for the purpose of ‘beautifying’ the genitalia. There are now serums, charcoal masks, various scented perfumes and even highlighters to make your beautiful vagina even more… well beautiful, and this market keeps on growing despite medical professionals’ disapproval of it. Not only are these products unnecessary, but they also promote a false idea that our genitals need to appear a certain way, which can create insecurities for women while also capitalising on them.
TWO L(I)PS is a skincare company dedicated entirely to the vulva, which specialises in selling products such as activated charcoal masks for $28 and brightening serums for $150. While all products are dermatologically tested, their necessity should be put under question. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good charcoal mask, but only for my face—never have I considered applying one to my vulva.
The charcoal masks are said to “soothe, detoxify, brighten and moisturize the vulva,” and were in fact so popular that the company sold out of them two months after their initial launch (they are now back in stock). One of the brand’s serums, priced at $120, is made out of the skin whitening agent Palmitoyl Hexapeptide-36, and comes with the instruction to apply SPF 30 sunscreen the following days. Make your own judgement, but it sounds quite concerning to me that sunscreen would be needed in that area after using a serum.
Another company, The Perfect V, explains on its website that its products are “always for beauty’s sake. It is pure, indulgent pampering and love for your ‘V’. It is a multi-tasking luxury skincare formulated to rejuvenate, enhance and beautify the ‘V’.” Notice how the company never refers to the vulva or vagina by its name—instead, it is just the ‘V’, and if you buy their products, you can beautify your ‘V’ to become the perfect ‘V’!
It is certainly confusing that a company created by adults for adults won’t refer to genitalia by its real name, and should be taken as a warning sign. Perhaps it comes from the stigma surrounding women’s genitalia, but this only makes it all the more ironic that a brand entirely dedicated to selling products for our vulvas can’t even acknowledge that it is in fact called a vulva.
Among the products being sold by The Perfect V, which all claim to be both dermatologically and gynaecologically tested, there is a special $43 highlighting cream that promises to ‘illuminate’ your vulva and make it shimmer. This product can be compared to a highlighter you may apply to your face during your make up routine, only, in this case, it is meant for your vulva.
Everyone should be free to do whatever they want with their own bodies, so if you want to illuminate your vulva, please feel free to do so. My aim isn’t to judge customers, but more to highlight a bigger problem: the stigmatisation of the appearance of female genitalia. This is an increasing issue, and cosmetic surgeries, such as labiaplasty, have seen a 400 per cent increase in the last 15 years.
The stigma doesn’t just stop at the appearance of the vulva itself—it also touches upon other aspects, such as the vagina’s natural scent, its moisture or lack of such, or its pubic hair. One of The Perfect V’s best selling products is a beauty mist described as both “a natural skin conditioner and deodorizer,” that supposedly moisturises your skin and leaves your vulva smelling of roses. Another company called V Magic sells lipstick for your vagina, which supposedly moisturises and deodorises your vagina, too.
Similarly, the ‘Clit Spritz’ is a product sold by The Tonic, a wellness company specialising in CBD products. The ‘Clit Spritz’ is described as a “sexily-silky, gorgeously-scented oil designed to stimulate, lubricate and rejuvenate your lady bits.” Using the expression ‘lady bits’ once again stigmatises genitals. It is important to note that the company is selling the ‘Clit Spritz’ as a lubricant—a product that is both necessary and great—but the product’s description is vague and implies that your clitoris needs a ‘gorgeous scent’, which it doesn’t.
Not only are some of these products beyond ridiculous, but many medical professionals advise against applying and using them as they can affect a healthy PH balance and lead to infection. Vaginas can naturally clean and moisturise themselves, so unless your doctor told you to use a specific product, you don’t need one.
That is not to say all products are useless—the company Fur, for example, sells a concentrate to help eradicate ingrown hairs while soothing irritation. Many wellness companies do focus on creating products that help, while others focus on beautifying your genitals. It is up to you to decide which product suits you best, but perhaps try to do some research on each product before buying any.