Our monthly cycle is beautiful, complex, multidimensional, divine-feminine, our sixth vital sign, and uh, not very glamorous at times. And it doesn’t need to be. It’s a grounding, detoxifying, natural part of the life-giving female body, and no one gets to tell us whether or not that should be—or smell—pretty.
But on that note, different scents around our period could be telling us something. We like to think of the menstrual cycle as a vital sign. The timing, the weight, the texture, and the premenstrual symptoms are all working together and separately to communicate what is going on with our body, our reproduction status, and ultimately, our health and safety.
First and foremost, it is important to note that our vaginas are a humble abode to billions of bacteria. This is our flora, a microbiome of the vagina’s very own. This flora is responsible for regulating the cleanliness of the vagina’s interior, keeping the population of good bacteria up, and clearing out the bad stuff (hello discharge).
Dr. Nigma Healthy Flora
This flora lives in a delicate balance, and that balance is known to change when influenced by outside factors or even internal factors such as chronic stress, illness, or shifts in our period. This is not just about bacteria though—vaginas tend to be mildly acidic, the median being a pH level around 4.5. The pH level can change when you’re on your period. Here are a few of the wafts we just might catch.
This is a more common scent around our time of bleed, and that’s due to iron in the blood. It may smell coppery, almost like a penny. This is from blood and tissue loss through the vaginal canal and is temporary. Occasional bleeding after or during sex is relatively common, as well, and will also be temporary. If the scent or any irregular bleeding persists long after your period, consult a physician.
Earthy and slightly sweet
Unfortunately, we aren’t talking sugar-sweet like Skittles, here. While we can eat plenty of fresh and tropical fruits to make things a little sweeter in our honey pot the rest of the month, our period is an exception. However, a slightly sweet and earthy aroma is typically due to the presence of bacteria—good bacteria. All is well here.
This will be distinct, strong, unmistakable, and possibly a little alarming. This is typically due to a foreign body inside the vagina (a lost or forgotten tampon) and is a topic of hygiene that should be addressed right away in order to avoid toxic shock syndrome.
While period blood may take on a slightly fishy smell on top of the metallic scent, an overtly fishy smell is a sign of possible infection. This infection is better known as bacterial vaginosis, and while creating a fishy smell during menstruation, can cause abnormal amounts of discharge during other times of the month. It is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in our normal flora—even an imbalance of the “good” bacteria is not good news here. It’s all about balance, and too much bacteria means infection. It’s a good idea to see a doctor and seek what the best treatment plan is—don’t worry, it’s not serious but can become so if left unchecked.
It’s no wonder that we have many sweat glands in our groin region known as the apocrine sweat glands—the general area is the home of some pretty heavy-duty lymph nodes responsible for processing and draining toxic compounds in our body fluid, and they are super important. Although, sometimes during our period, our body temperature tends to rise, and we may find ourselves sweating just a bit more.
Fig Femme Refresh Daily Wash
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and we welcome the extra detoxification, it can cause some extra unpleasant dampness “down there,” in addition to a more pungent smell. Period underwear is absorbent and moisture-wicking, helping to keep things dry, and pH-balanced wet wipes or a wash can help to keep things fresh and odor under control.
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