Why Does My Vagina Sweat Smell?

Everyone has body odor, but for some women, the groin area can also produce its own less-than-pleasant odor. This is normal, and it usually results from the healthy bacteria that live in the vulva microbiome.

If you find that your crotch sweat smells like a gym locker room after a tough spin class, don’t worry—it’s all good!

Sweat glands

The groin area, also known as the vulva, is home to healthy bacteria and sweat glands that produce a small amount of odorless perspiration. While it can be a bit embarrassing to think about, body odor down there is totally normal and nothing to worry about. Odor may vary during your menstrual cycle, after sex or when you’re stressed. It might even change during pregnancy or after breastfeeding.

But just like any other part of your body, the vulva can also become smelly from overproduction of sweat and friction against clothing or underwear that doesn’t allow it to breathe. Using cornstarch powder to absorb excess moisture can help control odor for awhile. But if you’re sweaty all the time, it’s best to see your doctor or gynecologist about what’s going on.

Certain underlying conditions and medications can cause excessive vulva sweating (also called hyperhidrosis). In some cases, it’s a reaction from nerves that signals your body to sweat more than usual. Luckily, there are some ways to combat this issue, including wearing underwear made from fabrics that “breathe” and choosing antiperspirants that contain less aluminum, Dr. Adigun says.

Just be careful with over-the-counter solutions, though, as some of them aren’t meant to be used on the vulva and could cause irritation. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t ever try to solve this problem by douching. Besides upsetting the pH balance of your vagina, it’s linked to hormone disruptions and can actually make odor worse.

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Bacteria

A slightly tangy or sour odor, like that of fermented foods, is normal and due to the lactobacilli bacteria that live down there. These bacteria help keep the vaginal pH balanced and protect against infection. Your normal vaginal flora can vary, though, based on the menstrual cycle, hormones, personal hygiene habits and more.

If you smell like you’re baking sourdough down there, that can be a sign of a yeast infection (also called bacterial vaginosis). This condition happens when the healthy lactobacilli get out of balance and multiply too much. Other symptoms include cottage cheese-like discharge and intense itching in the vulva and labia. The good news is, yeast infections are usually easily treated with an over-the-counter antifungal drug, like Monistat.

The sour or metallic scent of your vulva can also indicate that there’s an imbalance in the bacteria, which affects your pH. This can be caused by things like wearing tampons for too long, coming in contact with semen or a sexy lubricant that throws off your natural flora. Douching can also upset the delicate pH balance of your vulva, so ditch that habit! Instead, wipe front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement, and always use a barrier method of contraception.

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Hormones

Women’s sweat glands are more concentrated around the vulva (and groin) than underarms, and they can produce a strong body odor. This is normal and not something to be embarrassed about, but it can also make you feel uncomfortable or self-conscious.

Hormonal fluctuations can also affect your vagina’s odor. This is common during menstruation, pregnancy, and sex. It can also occur when you exercise or when your hormones spike due to hot temperatures or stress.

Some of these changes can also alter the pH levels in your vulva, which causes a more acidic or yeasty smell. If you notice a stronger odor in this area along with other symptoms like itching, painful vulva or breasts, a yeast infection, or heavy bleeding during sex, talk to your OB-GYN.

A strong sour or tangy smell may indicate an imbalance in the good bacteria in your vulva, called lactobacilli. This can cause a yeast infection and is often accompanied by discharge that looks like cottage cheese.

To avoid an unpleasant odor, wash your vulva daily with warm water and a mild, nondrying soap. Avoid talcum powder in this sensitive area, as it can cause irritation and increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Instead, opt for a gentle feminine hygiene stick or spray that is safe to use inside the vulva. Also, wear cotton underwear to help wick away moisture.

Food

Everyone has body odor, and the groin area, which includes the vulva and labia majora, is no exception. The smell of your crotch sweat can vary, however, based on things like your menstrual cycle, personal vaginal bacteria and hormones. A slight funk is normal, especially if you’re a heavy sweater.

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There are also certain foods that can cause your genital odor to smell stronger. Coffee, cheese and sugar are thought to change the pH of the vulva, leading to an increase in yeast bacteria, which can cause strong odors. Onions, garlic and curry are also believed to have a similar effect. Certain foods, such as asparagus and pineapple, are said to neutralize the odor of your vulva by increasing good bacteria and helping with pH balance. Cinnamon is believed to help prevent yeast infections and to be a natural antibacterial, while watermelon is used to flush out excess acidity.

Keep in mind that you should never put hygiene products inside of your vagina or underwear, as this can throw off the balance of your vulva’s natural pH and lead to infections. Instead, try using a cornstarch-based powder that absorbs moisture, like this one from Vagisil. And be sure to avoid talcum powder, as it can increase the risk of ovarian cancer in women. If you notice a sudden or persistent odor down there, speak to your gyno, as it may be a sign of something serious.

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