Q. I was wondering if there was any way I can improve the way I taste and smell 'down there'. I know that for the most part, it is the way it is, but I'd like to eliminate any factors that aren't doing me any good. I guess I'd like to feel less self-conscious about it.
A. The smell of a woman's vagina is unique and, for many, intoxicatingly erotic. Historically, women have been known to add a dab of their vaginal secretions to perfume in order to attract the opposite sex. "The Story of ‘V’: a natural history of female sexuality" describes it as, "Rich, sweet, deep, creamy and aromatic vaginal incense." Why is it then that the vagina also carries the reputation of giving off a fishy odor?
A woman's odor to a large extent is dictated by the delicate balance of bacteria in the vagina. Lactobacilli, the same bacteria found in yogurt, reside in the vagina - and as long as the acid/alkaline ratio remains stable, they will exist harmoniously, also helping prevent other bacteria from building up and over-colonizing. Moreover, it improves the woman’s defense against the pathogens in sexually transmitted diseases/infections (STDs/STIs).
According to "Woman: an Intimate Geography", a normal healthy vagina should smell slightly sweet and slightly pungent, somewhat like "the lactic smell of yogurt". It should also be fairly acidic, with a pH level somewhere in between coffee and a lemon; interestingly, the right mark is that of red wine.
When the conditions for a healthy vaginal flora go awry, the good bacteria can't suppress the host of bad bacteria from running rampant and secreting foul smelling by-products. Some women are naturally prone to mild imbalances of vaginal bacteria, while others might develop conditions such as Bacterial Vaginosis or Yeast Infections - treatable by antibiotics and leave-in treatments respectively.
What causes such imbalances? For some women, it's merely a matter of genetic predisposition, while for others it's a side effect of medication. Menstruation will also alter a woman's unique odor.
A vagina's exposure to foreign bodily fluids is also to blame: semen is incredibly alkaline and can temporarily cause a bacterial imbalance, sometimes lasting for hours. Also, exposure to unfamiliar semen from Multiple Partners only magnifies the problem. Lesbians aren't out of the woods either; exchanging vaginal fluids with a same sex partner can also impact flora.
What to do about it:
2. Avoid using scented tampons or soap. They may make you smell nice initially, but they can actually upset vaginal flora. Douching is definitely a no-no.
3. Wear clean, breathable, non-restrictive undergarments, particularly cotton. Avoid synthetics such as polyester or nylon panties: they may look great on but they're also efficient at trapping moisture, bacteria and sweat.
4. Always use Condoms – especially if you have multiple partners.
5. After using the washroom, always wipe from front to back (towards the anus, not away from it).
6. Eat a balanced, nutritionally rich diet (include yogurt) and avoid too much sugar.