Unlearn: Vaginal Discharge

by Sarah McElroy, NP

Why do we have vaginal discharge? 

If you have a vagina, you’ve had vaginal discharge.  This is normal.  Don’t let the internet fool you- vaginas are not dry when you’re not on your period. 

Vaginal discharge offers a lot of information about a person’s menstrual cycle; and no, I don’t just mean the actual period bleeding. Everyone has a different normal.  The monthly cycle involves hormone fluctuations which lead to ovulation and if pregnancy doesn’t happen the cycle ends, and a new cycle starts with period bleeding.  Discharge includes not only vaginal discharge, but cervical discharge, vaginal cells and sometimes left-over semen if you’ve recently had sex.   Everyone’s vagina tells a pretty good story into their fertility wellness based on how the vaginal discharge changes every month.  It’s worth taking note of.   Since discharge is different for everyone with a vagina, please get checked out if you feel a change isn’t part of your normal. This article isn’t meant to help you self-diagnose. 

 

Normal Discharge 

 So, what exactly is “normal”.  Healthy discharge varies in color and texture and can be white and sticky, sometimes clear and stretchy, sometimes plentiful, other times scarce.  Vaginal discharge can even change odor throughout a cycle which is unique for everyone. For example, around the time of ovulation, you might notice that your vaginal discharge becomes more wet and stretchy. Some describe this as the texture of raw egg whites.  Sometimes vaginal discharge changes the color of underwear because of how acidic it is.   This is all normal.   It’s a good plan to get to know your own discharge patterns so it’s easier to decide when to get help for a potential problem.  

 

When is vaginal discharge not normal? 

It’s always worth investigating a change in an individual’s normal discharge.  If discharge color changes to a shade of grey, yellow or green, that’s a pretty good indication that bacteria are likely present.  If it becomes very chunky, or frothy, if a new odor or bad odor develops ,or if discharge is associated with pelvic pain, that should signal that it’s time to get checked out by a medical professional  

Does a change in vaginal discharge always mean you have a STI?  

Not at all.  There are a few different things that can change vaginal discharge that aren’t sexually transmitted infections.   Yeast infections are notorious for changing the amount and texture of discharge, and bacterial vaginosis can turn your discharge grey.  Both are not sexually transmitted but can be uncomfortable.  Discharge can also change due to hormonal changes during pregnancy and menopause.   An STI should be on your list of things to rule out if you’re at a higher risk for them ( such as not using condoms or sharing toys). An STI may be more likely if you’re having green or yellow discharge or discharge that is frothy.  If you have a change in vaginal discharge, or irritation to your vagina please get checked out, especially if you’re sexually active.  

How to talk to your provider about your vaginal discharge

If you’re experiencing changes in your discharge, going to the clinic and talking to someone about it can be pretty intimidating and just plain uncomfortable.  If you end up seeing a provider in person, be clear about what you’re experiencing.  Tell them not only what your discharge looks like but how your vagina feels- if it’s sore, if you’re having pain with sex, or if it itches.  I promise you- health care providers have heard it all and just want to help!  You can visit a clinic or take our health into your own hands with an at home screening kit—whatever you’re most comfortable with! 

 

This article provides information about sexual health, healthcare and/or related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of TBD HEALTH INC.