Aunt Vadge: smelly discharge, no infection – what’s wrong with me?

Hi Aunt Vadge, 

My discharge is thick white/yellow and smells very strong. If I don’t use tampons the smell will stain my panties and through to my trousers. It started three months ago the day after I was harshly fingered by a friend. The strength of the smell can vary but it has never smelled “normal” since then. There are no other symptoms. I have been tested for all STDs and for bacterial infection. All came back negative.

In my last doctor’s appointment I was told to wear cotton underwear, stop shaving my vagina and to try not to irritate it. I have stopped using tampons to see if it gets better. I haven’t been to a gynecologist yet. Please help me, I have stopped having sex because the smell is too embarrassing. 

Yours sincerely,
Embarrassed
Norway, Age 21

Hi there Embarrassed,

It sounds like you have the wrong sorts of bacteria overgrowing in your vagina, and they are causing bad smells. You know when bacteria get onto food or old socks, and start to smell? That happens in the vagina as well. If there were no bacteria in the world, nothing would smell or go bad.

Because you have been tested and don’t have a bacterial infection, we can offer you some options for rebalancing your system. If you had BV or another infection, you would need to look a little harder into solving it, because the causes are more insidious. But, this should help if it is a bacterial imbalance.

Healthy (unsmelly) vaginas have a proliferation of good bacteria, mostly lactobacilli varieties. If you understand the concept of yoghurt – made using lactobacilli bacteria – then you understand the difference between ‘off’ milk – smelly – and yoghurt or sour cream – not smelly. (At least not bad smelling.) This is all due to the types of bacteria present in the milk product that either preserve it by keeping other bacteria out (fermented milk products like sour cream, yoghurt, cheese, etc.) or the other bacteria get there first and make the milk product go smelly and off.

Lactobacilli eat lactose and produce lactic acid, alcohol, hydrogen peroxide and bacteriocins (special bacteria ammunition) to keep other bacteria from colonising the vagina, but sometimes, for reasons unbeknownst to us, the wrong sorts of bacteria start to build their colonies. This is when you start to get funny smells and no true ‘infection’ can be found.

This is referred to as a mild bacterial imbalance, and it should be easy to resolve with a very good dose of lactobacilli into your system. This will take some time to complete, but if you are diligent and consistent, you should find your vagina recovers in days or weeks.

How to get rid of your bacterial imbalance and solve the smell problem

Probiotics

Get yourself a high-dose probiotic that has as many strains that normally live in the vagina as possible. Go into your local health food store (or pharmacy or whoever sells probiotics in your city) and ask them for a high-dose probiotic that helps balance vaginal microflora. You’ll probably end up with one more suited to yeast infections, but the outcome is the same. It should include L. rhamnosus.

Take four capsules across the day after food. After food, because otherwise your food will push the bacteria too quickly through your digestive system. You want it to get through the stomach and into your intestine with as many alive as possible, then allow the bacteria to proliferate. This could mean taking the capsules half an hour or an hour after eating. Do this until the jar runs out.

You take this (and the kefir) internally because a bacterial imbalance in your vagina can come from your gut either directly or indirectly. You need balanced bacteria all throughout your system, because everything is connected.

Milk kefir

Buy yourself some milk kefir grains online and learn how to ferment them at home. Make one cup of milk kefir per day and split the dose into morning and night. Drink whenever. You can also insert some milk kefir into the vagina using a syringe cannister (20ml or so is usually ok) and put a tampon in afterwards. Try this for as long as you want in the mornings, but I’d suggest probably a week would be a useful start.

Garlic

Garlic is an antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal, so you can pop a slightly crushed clove of garlic up your vagina (with cotton thread through it so you can pull it out) at night only. It can make you feel a bit sick and you will be able to taste and smell the garlic throughout your body and in your mouth, which can be pretty disgusting, so while you are asleep works best. It may also sting.

Hydrogen peroxide

To give your vagina a good rinse out, you can try douching with 3% or 6% hydrogen peroxide once daily for a week, separate from the above options. This, combined with the milk kefir, could work very quickly and easily to rebalance your vagina and at minimum get rid of the smell so you can have sex without worry.

What not to do

Avoid semen in your vagina (use condoms), since semen can feed the bad bacteria and change the pH unfavourably while you are trying to recolonise. After that, you can experiment and see how it goes. Keep checking and see what the results are. If the problem resolves, and your vagina has no smell (and not a bad smell), and this continues for several months (through periods and sex), then you can assume the problem is more or less solved.

If it doesn’t resolve, you may need to bring out the big guns. We can help, but try all these treatments first, and see how you go.

Write and let us know how you go!

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica Lloyd - Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
Read more about Jessica and My Vagina's origin story.