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Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Armpit?

The vagina hosts bacteria and holds cervical fluid, which has a natural scent. Scents can vary throughout the day, but a slightly tangy smell (think pickle or sauerkraut) is normal and reflective of good vulva health.

If the odor is stronger than usual and accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time to see your gyno. Here are a few reasons your vagina could be stinking:

Sweating

Most people don’t realize it, but the groin area has sweat glands. These glands produce the same fluid that they do in your armpits, but when this sweat mixes with the bacteria on your vulva, it can cause a bad odor. The best way to prevent this is by bathing regularly and wearing breathable underwear (no Lycra or spandex).

In some cases, a smell that reminds you of your underarms might be nothing to worry about. It could just be the result of a change in your normal bacteria or something that happens during sex or with menstruation. But if it’s very strong and combined with other symptoms, you should talk to your healthcare provider.

For example, if you’re noticing an ammonia-like odor, this is a sign of urine build-up on your underwear. If it’s accompanied by a red, sore or swollen vulva or abnormal discharge, you should make an appointment with your gynecologist immediately.

Your gynecologist can check for bacterial infections like trichomonasis or bacterial vaginosis, which may require treatment with antibiotics. In other cases, the smell of your crotch might simply be the result of poor hygiene. If you wash your crotch frequently and use feminine soap with no added fragrances, this should eliminate the problem. It’s also a good idea to wear loose cotton underwear and not wear synthetic materials that trap sweat.

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Emotions

People’s body parts release functional odors (or “smells”) when they’re experiencing an emotion, and the vulva is no exception. When an otherwise normal scent changes, it can signal that something is a little off and requires further investigation.

Women have a concentration of sweat glands around their labia majora called apocrine glands, similar to those in the armpits. They release a milky liquid when they’re feeling anxious, angry, or stressed and this may make their crotch smell like an armpit. It’s important to avoid wearing strong scented or perfumed products in this area. Regular washing with unscented soap should eliminate this smell.

The vulva is home to many types of bacteria, including healthy lactobacilli. These bacteria release certain chemicals that help maintain the acidity level of the vulva, which is what helps keep infection-causing odors away. When there’s a change in this balance, the vulva may produce a yeasty or tangy smell.

Girls may notice a coppery or metallic odor during their periods, as well as spotting or bleeding after sex. These smells are usually nothing to worry about. Girls should be sure to use pads or tampons, change them often, and shower or bathe regularly to prevent any infections. Infections, however, can cause a stronger or more unpleasant odor. If this is the case, girls should see their doctor right away.

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Food

A slightly tangy or sour aroma is normal, and can even be healthy. It comes from the “lactobacilli” bacteria that dominate most healthy vaginas and help keep the vulva area acidic, which protects against odor-causing bad bacteria. It is especially common around your period, and may be accompanied by a cottage cheese-like discharge.

A coppery or metallic smell is also normal, and can be due to the presence of blood from menstruation or small cuts from sex (or even just a little vaginal dryness). However, it can also be a sign of an infection like trichomoniasis, which often presents with a foul odor in the vulva and groin areas as well as painful urination and vaginal discharge.

The same foods that can make your armpits smell can have an impact on the vulva and groin area, particularly onion, garlic, spicy and smoked foods. This is because these foods can alter the acidity of the microflora in your vulva and groin, causing them to smell stronger than usual.

It’s also important to stop douching, because this can upset your vulva’s pH balance and lead to an overgrowth of odor-causing bacteria, as well as other issues like itching and discharge. If the odor is persistent, talk to your gyno about it and ask for a yeast infection test or antibiotics as needed.

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Infections

Everyone has body odor, including the areas inside their groin and vulva. But a strong, unfamiliar odor in this area isn’t normal and may indicate an infection or illness.

Your vagina contains billions of bacteria that can change on a daily basis. If the bacterial composition becomes imbalanced and you have an overgrowth of yeast (which causes the familiar, cheese-curd odor), this is known as a yeast infection or vulva odor. Yeast infections can be treated with over-the-counter antifungal medications such as Monistat or with a prescription from your gynecologist.

Other odors, such as the fishy smell of bacterial vaginosis (BV) or a musty scent that comes with trichomoniasis (Trich), can also signal an infection and require treatment. You should always see your healthcare provider if you have a foul-smelling odor, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as grayish-white vaginal discharge, itching and burning.

To avoid unpleasant vaginal odor, keep the area clean by using a gentle cleanser for this area such as Cetaphil’s Deep-Cleansing Bar or Vanicream Gentle Cleanser. Avoid abrasive cleansers, which can throw off your pH balance and lead to an infection. Use breathable clothing such as cotton and avoid tight-fitting undergarments, which can trap heat and moisture. Change out of wet clothes as soon as you can, and shower often — especially after swimming in a chlorinated pool. Also, wear tampons only when needed and never leave a tampon in for more than 4 or 6 hours.