Scents “Down” There

By Jennifer Walsh

Women have often carried shame around about their scent “down there.” As females, we all have different body scents and natural odors. However, there are many different reasons women may experience an “unpleasant”type of odor. This can be due to changes in hormonal levels, stress, diet, hygiene, sexual activity, medications, and body composition.

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We turned to Casey-Ann Collins, an RN, MSN, FNP-C at Garden OB/GYN in New York City, who was recently named aTop Nurse by the International Nurse’s Association, to help us understand a few things about what’s going on down there.

Why do we have the scent we do?

In my practice, the most common culprit for unpleasant odors are due to pH imbalances that often lead to bacterial and fungal infections of the vagina known as bacterial vaginosis and vaginal candidiasis, commonly known as yeast infections. While changes in vaginal scents are normal as we age, they’re also based on factors like hormones, vaginal pH, diet, and lifestyle.

A women’s body odor can definitely change for the better or for the worse. For example, a menopausal woman may find herself having more distinct odors if she struggles with urinary incontinence or has an underlying condition like Diabetes Mellitus, which will put her at increased risk for yeast infections.On the flip side to that, I find that younger patients who are sexually active with more than one partner are more likely to report experiencing fishy odors and malodorous discharge.

And what about the unending supply of washes for women on the market?

Feminine washes have become quite controversial these days. I often have patients report their vaginal odor worsening after using various feminine washes. However, I do believe they have their place as far as restoring vaginal pH and thus preventing unpleasant odors. My advice to my patients is to always stay away from heavily scented soaps and washes because the perfumes and chemicals within them are more likely to either dry out or irritate the vagina. However, studies have shown that just using plain water, in addition to practicing good hygiene is enough to prevent unwanted odors.

So what can we do to freshen things up?

Even with the practice of good hygiene, unpleasant odors can sometimes occur. We are not meant to smell like flowers, and we all have different scents. It is important to consider all factors, such as diet, your stress level, medications, contraceptive use, body composition, and your hormones. It is always a good idea to ensure your sexual partner and/or sexual activities do not play a negative role as well. Thus, maintaining a clean diet, staying hydrated, incorporating probiotics, keeping stress levels to a minimum and practicing good personal and sexual hygiene can be beneficial in maintaining vaginal health and preventing unwanted odors.

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