Intimate odours: an essential guide to what’s normal and what’s not

And what you can do about them.
two women hugging on a balcony

Our scent is a fascinating part of what makes us uniquely us. Everyone has their own scent, and while most of us are unaware of it, it makes us recognisable. Think of the difference between the smell of your partner’s neck as opposed to your mum’s when you lean in for a kiss. Each scent sets off a different chain reaction that can trigger emotions, memories and desires.

As the strongest of our five senses, scent is also an alert system for when things aren’t quite right. Our olfactory system, which controls our sense of smell, sends messages to our brain to let us know of potential threats (like smoke from a fire), or concerns when things are off kilter with our body, like bad breath or odours of a personal nature.

Listen to your body

There are external factors that can vary the way we smell, such as certain foods, sweat, exercise or weather, to name a few. Body odour is a different thing altogether and occurs when sweat and bacteria combine on the skin and can range from an onion-like smell to a musty aroma, varying greatly from person to person.

Knowing what’s normal and what’s not comes down to knowing your own body and what’s normal for YOU. In the vaginal region, intimate odours can change over the course of your lifetime depending on what’s happening down there at the time. From periods to pregnancy, sexual activity and menopause, a lot happens over the lifetime of your vagina and urethra. Knowing what’s normal for the stage you’re in can help you know if things are functioning as they should or could benefit from further investigation.

It’s important to know that some genital odour is completely normal and varies from person to person, day to day. But if it’s unusual, impacting your confidence or causing you concern, speak to your GP or health care professional for advice and investigation to rule out any potential medical issues.

Here are three of the more common causes of intimate odours, and some ideas to try if they’re bothering you.

Light bladder leakage

As women approach menopause, light bladder leakage, or LBL, becomes more common. As the pelvic floor relaxes with age, LBL can occur when you laugh, sneeze or lift heavy objects. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can take you by surprise and occasionally you might notice the smell of urine. It’s important to remember that LBL is very common and completely normal. But if you are worried about LBL, speak to your GP because there are several simple and effective ways to manage it.

Try this: Wetness from leaks can feel unpleasant and urine can have a noticeable odour. If LBL is bothering you, Poise Charcoal Odour Protection Liners can keep you dry, and the additional charcoal layer removes up to 95 per cent of odours, compared to having no liner, for discreet, comfortable protection.

woman drinking water in bed taking medication

Some medications

If an usual odour coincides with taking a new medication, your meds could be the cause. Antibiotics can alter the natural flora of your vagina. While they’re working to treat infection elsewhere in your body, they can also cause an imbalance of bacteria around the urethra and vagina and lead to thrush. You might notice a yeasty or bread-like smell and a whitish discharge. Thrush can also be accompanied by a burning or itching sensation.

Try this: See your GP or speak to your pharmacist about oral or vaginal over-the-counter thrush treatments. Don’t stop taking prescribed antibiotics in the middle of a course except on the advice of your GP.

Pregnant females touching their abdomens during yoga practice

Normal hormonal changes

While completely normal, hormone fluctuations can cause some big changes during pregnancy and heading into menopause. They can alter your vagina’s microbiome and discharge, which can cause changes in urinary urges and alter the way your vaginal area smells.

Try this: You can’t change your body’s naturally occurring processes, but you might feel more comfortable with a bit of extra protection against urine surges, leakage or increased vaginal secretions. When these combine, they can create a stronger than usual smell. Poise Charcoal light panty liners and overnight pads offer discreet protection by drawing away moisture and locking it in, to eliminate odours and give you peace of mind.

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