Genital odor

Originally Published: November 15, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: January 11, 2008
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(1)
Dear Alice,

For like several years I have been afflicted with a really smelly crotch. It's like I sweat a lot down there and it just has a really sweaty vaginal odor. I bathe regularly but nothing really helps; by the end of the day I always smell funky. This wouldn't gross me out if it was just an occasional problem, but it happens every day. What can I do?

Thanks,
Stinky

(2)
Alice,

I have an embarrassing odor problem in the crotch area due to sweating. The odor is the same as underarm body odor. FDS didn't seem to help any. Cornstarch and powders work for about an hour. I wear only cotton panties. It seems that gel deodorants (Mitchum/Soft & Dri) are the only products that will control the odor for more than one hour (not long enough). Is using antiperspirants/deodorants harmful to my body (I do not use it in the clitoral/vaginal region, only on the "mound" of hair)? Also, how can I eliminate this sweating? My friends don't seem to have this problem. I am 32 and the problem seems to worsen each year.

Dear Stinky and Reader #2,

You bring up two related, but possibly distinct issues: vaginal odor and sweating in the genital area. They are related because sweat can be a factor in causing odor, however odor may be present even without excessive perspiration. Let's address the odor issue first. All women have a vaginal scent that is normal for them; this scent may change throughout a woman's menstrual cycle, becoming stronger and milder at times. Having a vaginal scent is normal and not considered a problem in itself. However if a woman notices that her normal scent suddenly changes, becomes much stronger, or seems foul, it may be an indication of an infection or other medical problem. (Also read Changes in vaginal scent and Body aroma.)

Troublesome vaginal odor can be caused by several factors. The most common cause is vaginal bacterial overgrowth known as bacterial vaginosis, which has a "fishy" or "musty" smell. "Fishy" smells can also result from vaginal infections, such as trichomonas vaginalis, and in some women, from semen in the vagina. The vagina could also smell "yeasty" because of vaginal yeast overgrowths. (Also check out Antibiotics and yeast infections, Yeast infection, and Burning after sex without a condom). Synthetic underwear, pantyhose, tights, and Spandex exercise clothes do not allow air to circulate around the vulva (the outer lips of the vagina). A moist, sweaty environment promotes overgrowths of normal skin bacteria that could cause vaginal odor.

A physical exam by a health care provider can determine whether vaginal odor is being caused by something that is treatable with a medication, such as for bacterial vaginosis, trichomonas, or yeast. In these cases, the unpleasant smell usually goes away after the treatment. The physical exam can also detect other health problems that might cause unusual body odors. If you are a Columbia student, you may call x4-2284 or log on to Open Communicator to make an appointment with a health care provider in Primary Care Medical Services. If you are not a Columbia student, you can visit a gynecologist or your regular health care provider.

Some basic steps to prevent run-of-the-mill vaginal odor caused by overgrowths of normal skin bacteria are to:

  • Wash your vulva with warm water and unscented, gentle soap with mild antibacterial action.
  • Wear underwear and exercise clothes made from materials that "breathe," such as cotton.
  • Wear loose pajama bottoms or a night gown -- or nothing at all -- to let your vulva "breathe." (read archived Alice Air out vagina at night?).
  • Don't douche. If deemed necessary, douching should be done only under the direction of a health care provider. Otherwise, douching is not recommended.

Here comes the link to perspiration: vaginal odor could also be caused by excessive sweating (known as hyperhidrosis) in your vaginal area because a sweaty environment allows bacteria to proliferate. Applying cornstarch can help control moisture and odor, temporarily, as you have already discovered. Alternatively, some women find they can manage any odor and sweat by bathing twice a day. Antiperspirants also help control sweating and odor, however, like you noted, it is important to avoid applying antiperspirants to mucous membranes. The labia (vaginal lips) and vagina are mucous membranes and can easily be irritated by antiperspirant, or any harsh cosmetic. In addition, it may be helpful for you to avoid conditions of excess heat, and stay clear of diets that are too high in sugar, caffeine, and alcohol, because all of these may also contribute to your problem of vaginal sweating.

Considering that you have already tried many of these remedies, you may have the best luck speaking with your health care provider about the underlying causes of the excessive perspiration. S/he may be able to prescribe a product that could provide you with more relief. You can also find more information about excessive sweating through the International Hyperhidrosis Society.

Best of luck staying dry!

Alice

July 18, 2012

513909
I've had a similar problem and just discovered a miracle! Use a tea tree oil natural soap to wash your privates and that significantly reduce the odor. I no longer smell myself during the day and...
I've had a similar problem and just discovered a miracle! Use a tea tree oil natural soap to wash your privates and that significantly reduce the odor. I no longer smell myself during the day and don't feel uncomfortable being around people. You can also try diluting some tea tree oil in your regular soap to see if that works. I also sprinkle a bit of baby powder in that area and it helps with the sweating.

January 8, 2008

21397
I switched from cotton to synthetic, performance underwear that I bought at an adventure equipment store. The synthetic fabric resists microbial growth, wicks away sweat, and is comfortable to wear....
I switched from cotton to synthetic, performance underwear that I bought at an adventure equipment store. The synthetic fabric resists microbial growth, wicks away sweat, and is comfortable to wear. It made a big difference. They have both mens and womens.

August 31, 2004

20788
Alice,

Female vaginal odor (especially the sweaty armpit-like smell) is VERY arousing, and if you are fortunate enough to have such an odor, LEAVE IT ALONE. if your mate doesn't like it, trade...

Alice,

Female vaginal odor (especially the sweaty armpit-like smell) is VERY arousing, and if you are fortunate enough to have such an odor, LEAVE IT ALONE. if your mate doesn't like it, trade him in on one who does!!!

May 9, 2004

20602
hi alice! i have a suggestion for women whose crotch areas sweat a lot and smell bad by the end of the day: it might also be urine which dries on the hair and accumulates, sort of, especially if...
hi alice! i have a suggestion for women whose crotch areas sweat a lot and smell bad by the end of the day: it might also be urine which dries on the hair and accumulates, sort of, especially if the hair is longish. i have this problem and have tried: 1) trimming the hair a little - NOT A GOOD IDEA - it will curl inward and scratch where you don't wanna be scratched in public. and 2) gently wiping the afflicted area with damp tissue, paper towels, or those special wipes made for after performing bodily functions. this seems to really help. the wipes made for women to use "down there" are a really "down there" sort of thing: very highly perfumed, pink flowery individual wrappers, etc. paranoia-inducing. tell that girl to wash that thang off a little during the day!!!

May 9, 2004

20603
Hi Alice, I have a few comments rather then a question in response to the data bank of Q...
Hi Alice, I have a few comments rather then a question in response to the data bank of Q&A's on sexuality. The women who have stinky vaginas might try to change their diet. Switching to a diet of more fruits, vegetables, and grains while avoiding junk food, meats, dairy, yeast, alcohol, tobacco and might produce a more agreeable odor. It has been shown that in both men and women, those who consume a healthy diet alter the smell of their juices. I, myself, don't maintain the proper diet I should but both my partner and I notice a change in the consistency and odor of our juices when we consume a healthy diet.

June 6, 1997

20305
Dear Alice, Regarding the "Genital odor" letter — could it possibly be that the odor is not from the vagina, but rather from the skin between the upper thigh and mons pubis, or between the labia...
Dear Alice, Regarding the "Genital odor" letter — could it possibly be that the odor is not from the vagina, but rather from the skin between the upper thigh and mons pubis, or between the labia majorae and minorae? That being the case, it is possible that the smell is from "jock itch" or a fungal infection and should be treated accordingly. I also have overactive sweat glands and am prone to jock itch now and again. Lamisil was the treatment, and worked great. I'm told that OTC products are also effective, but I don't know if they would be bad for the tissues of the labia, as I am not an owner of such an organ.