What's the white stuff on my vulva?

Dear Alice,

I've been wondering about the white stuff that is occasionally found in between my labia majora and labia minora... I do NOT have any STDs (I tested) and am assuming it's dried urine...

I want to get rid of this white stuff because it looks and smells bad as if I have STDs when I have oral sex. Is there any way to prevent getting this white stuff?

Thank you, a good guy seeker

Dear a good guy seeker, 

You mention assuming the “white stuff” was dried urine residue. While dried urine can be a possibility, as it can also produce its own distinctive scent, it's more likely that you’re describing smegma. Smegma is a residue made up of oils, skin cells, sweat, and other fluids that can accumulate in the genital area. This residue typically acts as a natural lubricant for the genital area, keeping the skin moist and reducing any friction, pain, or discomfort that may be experienced during sex. However, build-up of this substance can occur if the genital area isn’t washed daily. 

Smegma is known for its characteristic smell, which some describe as unpleasant or foul, and its cheesy-like appearance that may vary in color from white or opaque to darker shades. The build-up of smegma can cause irritation, discoloration, or swelling in the genital area. This is especially true if it’s under the fold of skin that protects the clitoris—also known as the clitoral hood. Smegma is more commonly seen in adolescents or young adults, as oil production tends to decline with age. 

While smegma isn’t contagious, it can lead to serious medical conditions if unkempt. For those with penises, especially those with a foreskin, a buildup of smegma can cause balanitis. This is a condition characterized by inflammation of the penis head and foreskin. It could also cause phimosis which is a condition in which the foreskin tightly covers the head of the penis and is unable to retract. For those with vaginas, the accumulation of dried and hardened smegma underneath the clitoral hood can cause clitoral adhesion, in which the clitoral hood adheres to the clitoris. This could cause irritation and pain, especially under the clitoral hood, since it’s unable to properly protect the clitoris. Luckily, if these conditions are caused by a buildup of smegma, removal of the smegma will likely resolve these conditions. 

To remove smegma and prevent future build-up, you might try the following strategies: 

  • Avoid using perfumed or scented soaps to prevent irritation or sensitivity in or around your vagina. 
  • Wash the genital area daily with warm water and soap, and dry with a clean towel. For those with a penis and foreskin, gently pull back the foreskin and wash underneath to reduce the potential for buildup. 
  • Wear clean, breathable underwear to keep the genital area dry, which will reduce the risk of bacteria growth. 
  • Use rubbing oil or baby oil to loosen and remove the smegma that has hardened. If you’re uncomfortable with removing it yourself, a health care provider can assist you! 
  • Avoid douching or overuse of specialized vaginal hygiene products, as these products can cause a harmful cycle of irritation, odor, or pain that the product originally intended to eradicate. Douching and using over-the-counter specialized vaginal hygiene products (e.g., washes, creams, numbing sprays, cleansing wipes, pH washes, and other products with Benzocaine) only temporarily relieve symptoms. They fail to address the underlying issue that may be causing these symptoms. Unless prescribed by a health care provider, overuse of these products can disturb the vaginal microbiome and change pH levels, which creates conditions for bacteria growth. 

It may also be helpful to know that having an odor ‘down there’ is natural, and fluctuations in scent are common throughout the menstrual cycle. Unless the odor is caused by a medical condition or lack of hygiene, your scent is a unique and natural part of you! For further diagnosis, consider speaking with a health care provider to ensure that a different medical condition isn’t the cause of the symptoms you’re experiencing. This way they can perform diagnostic tests and provide treatment, if necessary. A medical professional can also provide you with further information or resources about smegma if you have any questions or concerns.  

Last updated Dec 29, 2023
Originally published Dec 05, 2003

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