Discharge 101

The average period is usually roughly four to seven days – but what about the rest of our full menstruation cycle?  While periods face a lot of stigma, regular vaginal discharge is often an uncomfortable topic too.  This awkwardness impacts people more than we realize – subconsciously, we may associate discharge and normal odours with being “dirty,” or “unclean,” when in fact the vagina is amazing and self-cleaning!  Contrary to the media and advertisements, we don’t smell like a bed of flowery roses at all times, and nor do all of our bikini lines look like the TV ads – the real problem lies in thinking we’re supposed to or feeling pressured to reach this “ideal.”  Reminder: your vagina is fine exactly the way it is!

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With the unrealistic standards out there that don’t reflect how our bodies actually work, it can be hard to tell what’s normal when it comes to vaginal discharge and odour.  And with the barrage of douching products on the market, the idea that the vagina is something inherently “unclean,” persists.  Isn’t it interesting to note that there isn’t really an equivalent marketed towards men?  Companies make so much money by pushing the idea that women’s natural bodies are unclean!  The vagina is remarkable because it’s self-cleaning – it actually maintains its own balanced pH level, and “cleaning it out” with heavily scented products and douching is not just unnecessary, it can be quite harmful.

Let’s debunk some common types of discharge:

  • Clear/watery: can occur at any point of your cycle. Discharge that resembles the texture of egg whites or mucous can be an indication that you’re ovulating and fertile
  • Brown: can commonly occur at the end of your period as the old blood clears out. Can also be common if you experience spotting from your IUD
  • Slightly metallic odour: can happen around your period.

Rules about discharge aren’t black and white – a good rule of thumb is to know what’s “normal” for you, and to notice any significant changes.  Maybe your “clear and watery” discharge is more yellow in colour, don’t freak out if it doesn’t match everything on the internet.  However there are general signs to watch for, that you should check out at the doctor’s office:

  • Fishy odour and gray coloured discharge could indicate bacterial vaginosis (BV), an extremely common infection that usually goes away without medical treatment. The vagina maintains a delicate balance of good and bad bacteria; BV can occur when there’s a simple pH imbalance, that in most cases will go away without treatment.  It’s more common if you’re sexually active, but 1 in 3 women may get BV in their lifetime!  A quick doctor’s visit will determine if you need medication or not.
  • Any unusual itching or burning sensations or visible rashes. Itching accompanied by white and very clumpy discharge can indicate a yeast infection
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Remember, discharge exists to carry away dead cells and bacteria, so not much extra cleaning is necessary.  The vagina does most of its own housekeeping, and works hard to keep your vaginal flora (the bacteria) balanced.  In the shower, very mild soap and water on the outside is really all you need.  Simply wear clean underwear, and change after exercising.  On your period, let’s be real…things can get messy – water is your best friend.  But if you prefer keeping wipes on hand, make sure they’re fragrance-free.  Over-cleansing and using douching products can lead to infections, because they disturb the balance of bacteria – let your vagina do its job!

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