Discharge 101: Is What You See In Your Underwear Normal?
If, like me, you were insanely confused by the gooey stuff in your underwear the first time it appeared – know that you’re not alone.
For some reason, my mother never thought it would be essential to tell me about it. A heads up like, “Oh hey, bleeding from your hooha is not the only thing that’s going to happen, you’re also going to experience daily goop,” would have been nice. It’s important to know what’s going on with your body when you’re just sitting at your desk at work, having dinner with friends or getting it on in the bedroom – what is that moisture? Unfortunately, because the experience has been so sexualised, it’s not often talked about and even become “embarrassing” to bring up. In reality, every woman in the world experiences vaginal discharge and it’s a perfectly normal experience to have. It’s really only your body telling you how healthy you and your vagina is.
The factors that affect your discharge may vary and depend on what time of the month (are you ovulating?) it is as well as how old you are (are you facing menopause?). Either way, your vagina is keeping itself healthy by maintaining the balance of bacteria in it and your vulva.
Did you know that there are more than two different types of fluids that our vagina produces?
Vaginal discharge is a normal part of life for most people with a vagina. To keep it all clean down below the glands in your vagina and cervix produce fluid. In doing so, the fluids will carry old cells and debris out of the body – voilà, in the form of discharge. The amount, consistency and smell may change on a day by day basis, but normal discharge is usually clear or milky with barely any smell.
Also known as cervical fluid, this stretchy, clear/egg-white like fluid is a component (i.e. a form of) vaginal discharge. Cervical fluid is made up of the cells of your cervix and will change throughout your monthly cycle. Cervical fluid is meant to help protect sperm on it’s way to your egg and will appear to be heavier/clearer on the days leading up to ovulation. Afterwards, it will return to being thick and sticky to stop other foreign objects from breaching your cervix.
No, it is not just pee. The fluid that is released when women ejaculate is not much different from the semen that men release. For females, the liquid that is released when squirting is a combination of “prostate-specific antigen (PSA), prostatic acid, and phosphatase, as well as creatinine and urea”. And while not all women squirt, the 10-54% of women that do can lose up to half a cup of fluid each time. It doesn’t smell and is even known to taste sweet. There is nothing wrong with squirting, it’s simply an indication of maximum pleasure.
If you’re sexually active, you will be able to tell the difference between being “wet” and normal discharge and/or cervical mucus. Arousal fluid is the natural lubrication that your body produces to reduce the friction caused by sexual activity. Not only does this make penetration more comfortable, but it also makes it more pleasurable. When you are aroused, these pea-size glands – called Bartholin glands – will secrete these fluids, almost like sweating, to get you ready for sex.
What should we be looking for?
Discharge changes based on the time of the month – which means that you will be able to tell when you’re most fertile. This is because your cervical fluid will give you up to 6 days of a heads up for when it’s optimal timing to have a baby. During this time, the fluid protects the sperm from the natural acidity of the vagina. As you start to near ovulation, your discharge will become watery, allowing the sperm to swim through while filtering out the sperm that are not strong enough to make the journey. Always keep an eye out for these three things – colour, smell and volume (this also varies depending on if you are on hormonal birth control).
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LADIES!!! Do you check what your discharge looks like? 🤔 Most of the time discharge is completely normal but it can also indicate abnormality. If it's white and creamy or clear this indicates a normal healthy vagina. A few days or a week before your period, you may get a thicker, creamier discharge. If it’s clear / a slippery egg discharge it is usually a sign of ovulation. If it's thick, white, and lumpy… This is very likely a sign of a yeast infection. If it’s greenish/ grey and has a fishy odour, you’ve likely got bacterial vaginosis, or BV, which is a common but uncomfortable infection (not an STD) caused by an imbalance of the normal flora, the microorganisms in the vagina. If it has traces of blood… You may just be getting ready for your period. But if you're bleeding in between cycles or it looks slightly off, it could signify something more serious. It’s important to consult a doctor as the possibilities is quite wide . If it's yellow or greenish-yellow… This could be an indicator of STDs that require medical treatment. Also keep in mind that chlamydia can cause a discharge like this, but frequently it has no symptoms at all — so just because you don't have a discharge doesn't mean you don't have it. We hope this helps you ladies! It’s important we all understand what our bodies are trying to tell us 💖 #vaginadischarge #vaginaldischarge #bodyconscious #iknowmybody #vagïnalove
Colour and texture: At every point of your cycle, your discharge will change. When your cycle is just beginning, your discharge will be drier and stickier. When you enter the first phase of your cycle, it will turn creamy. As soon as you start to ovulate, it will dilute and feel wetter, look more transparent and seem stretchier. After you ovulate, it will go back to what it felt like in the beginning, dry and/or sticky. Do note, however, that as it dries, your fluid can look white or slightly yellowish and paste-like on your underwear (this is no reason to be alarmed).
Volume: Aside from the increase in fluids when you are aroused, you will also find that your vagina will produce more discharge leading up to and while you are ovulating. After ovulation, it will lessen.
Smell: Discharge is known to be mostly odourless. However, mild scents do sometimes happen but rarely will normal (i.e. healthy) discharge smell bad. The different ways it could smell is if it smells fishy or metallic. What that being said, it can sometimes appear smelly when it mixes with urine or if, when you’re about to have your period, it mixes with blood.
What it means if your discharge is…
Thick & White
Only be concerned if your discharge is white and you feel any form of irritation (i.e. burning, itching). If you do feel irritation, it is likely that you are experiencing some sort of infection. A common infection is a yeast infection, whereby your discharge will appear thick and similar to cottage cheese. At least 90% of women will experience having a yeast infection at some point in their lives so don’t be alarmed.
If your discharge is yellow from the get-go, it is highly likely that you are experiencing a bacterial infection or sexually transmitted infection (STI). Usually, this will be accompanied by an odour. If the discharge is a pale yellow, odourless, and not accompanied by other symptoms, then there is no cause for concern.
Brown discharge would look like spotting. If you see brown discharge before your period, this is usually harmless and may be linked to irregular periods. However, if you see brown discharge regularly, you might need to see a professional as brown discharge could be a sign of uterine or cervical cancer.
Without a doubt, green discharge is not normal. This is a sign of bacterial infection or a sexually transmitted infection, such as trichomoniasis.
Should you be seeing a professional?
This is why it’s important to know what’s going on down there. Paying attention to your vaginal discharge is important to recognise what’s normal for you and to keep track of signs that something may be wrong. Most period tracking apps allow you to take notes or even have options for tracking changes in your discharge. If what you’re seeing is not normal for you, or appear with symptoms like pain, itching, irritation and so forth – it may be time to talk to your nearest professional.
*Cover image credits: Background: Charles Deluvio on Unsplash Left: FABIOLA LARA