Understanding Changes in Vaginal Odor

Although a healthy vagina has a scent, and the scent may change or get stronger during sexual arousal, it shouldn't have an unpleasant smell. A strong or foul vaginal odor, or a change in vaginal odor, may be a sign that you have an infection. Several vaginal infections, both sexually transmitted and sexually associated, can affect vaginal odor.

If the smell of your vagina has changed or become unpleasant, or if you have a change in your vaginal discharge, it's a good idea to call your healthcare provider. That way, you can find out whether or not you have an infection that needs to be treated, or if the change in the way your vagina smells is just a reflection of other changes in your life, such as diet or hormonal shifts.

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Infections Causing Vaginal Odor Changes

These infections may cause a change in vaginal odor.

Bacterial Vaginosis

The infection most commonly associated with a change in vaginal smell is bacterial vaginosis. Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is not necessarily an STD, although it is associated with sexual behavior and has been shown to be sexually transmitted in women who have sex with women.

One of the main symptoms of BV is a strong, fishy odor that is particularly prominent after penile-vaginal sex. The smell increases at that time because semen reduces the acidity of the vagina, and the chemical compounds that produce the smell are more noticeable at a higher pH.


Trichomoniasis can also cause a change in vaginal odor. This infection is an STD, although males rarely have symptoms.

In contrast, people vaginally infected with the Trichomonas vaginalis parasite usually develop a strong vaginal odor along with itching or discomfort during sex or urination. Their vaginal discharge may also change in appearance, becoming frothy or shifting in color.

Yeast Infection

Yeast infections are known to cause vaginal odor changes in some people. Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted and, although they are sometimes associated with sex, some people are prone to them for other reasons.

For example, people with uncontrolled diabetes may be at higher risk of yeast infections because yeast likes to feed on the excess sugar in their urine.

Other Causes

Vaginal odor changes can also be a symptom of other sexually transmitted infections and reproductive conditions, particularly if those conditions are severe and/or accompanied by a discharge. However, most of the time, a shift in vaginal odor is caused by conditions that are relatively straightforward to diagnose and treat.

That doesn't mean that getting appropriate care is any less important. Left untreated, bacterial vaginosis, for example, can potentially leave the person vulnerable to more serious infections, and it has occasionally been associated with pelvic inflammatory disease, which can affect fertility.

Avoid Vaginal Deodorants and Douches

If you've noticed that your vagina smells funny, you may be tempted to address the problem by using a vaginal deodorant or vaginal douche. But this is a bad idea. A strange or unpleasant vaginal smell is your body's way of telling you that something is wrong and that you need to visit a healthcare provider.

Masking the odor doesn't fix the problem that is causing it, and the products you use to do so may make an infection worse.

Douching, in particular, can be a bad idea if you have a vaginal infection. There has been some research that suggests douching with an infection can increase the risk of it ascending into your uterus and causing pelvic inflammatory disease.

In addition, douching can alter the normal vaginal flora, which may actually predispose you to develop conditions such as BV. Therefore, unless a medicinal douche has been prescribed to you by a healthcare provider, douching is probably not the best choice you can make for addressing vaginal odor or improving your reproductive health.

Again, the best thing to do if you're concerned about a change in your vaginal odor is to call your practitioner.

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4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD facts - bacterial vaginosis. Feb 8, 2017.

  2. STD Facts - Trichomoniasis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jan 31, 2017.

  3. Rodrigues CF, Rodrigues ME, Henriques M. Candida sp. Infections in patients with diabetes mellitus. J Clin Med. 2019;8(1) doi:10.3390/jcm8010076

  4. Office of Women's Health Pelvic inflammatory disease. Apr 1, 2019.