Telling your girlfriend she has bad vag

Sometimes vaginas go bad. This could be a bad smell or unpleasant vaginal taste that appears suddenly or develops over time, or you might be getting together with someone new and notice her vagina doesn’t smell too good from the get-go. This is difficult to broach, but it is an important thing to bring up, because not only may she not know that she has a problem, but the problem may be a non-STI infection that you can also catch.

This is where it becomes more important than ever to bring the subject up, because bad vag becomes bad penis, even if you don’t get symptoms. Your penis could be the bad penis that gives other vaginas bad vag. Don’t be that guy!

     The rule for guys when it comes to bad vag

If a vagina smells bad, don’t put your mouth or penis near it without a condom. Mouths can catch bacteria too, since the vagina and mouth share a lot of similarities. Bad smells are always caused by bacterial problems, and bacteria love to body-hop. BV is a classic example (fishy-smelling vaginas) where the biofilms in her vagina can grow on your penis, and you can then spread this back to her and to other women.

Keep in mind that vaginas tend to change smell and taste over the course of the menstrual cycle, but it is abnormal for a vagina to smell off or fishy or like rotten meat or old blood or musty, so even if it is a natural cyclical change, bad smells indicates an underlying bacterial imbalance. Note that a metallic taste or smell is likely to be related to the presence of blood. The pH changes over her cycle, changing the bacterial profile, but if it’s bad-smelling during any part of her cycle, it is indicative of a deeper bacterial problem.

Your lover needs to know about any problems, as she might not be aware – you are getting a close-up view and smell of something she never gets that close to. Vaginas naturally smell ‘of the sea’, but not fishy and not bad. A healthy vagina is generally very neutral in its smells, though the particular woman and her particular scent may not mix well with you. You should be aware of personal preference versus bad vag. This can be hard to know if you haven’t been up close to many vaginas, but – you can tell. Bad vag is very distinctive.

Having a smelly or bad-tasting vagina is very embarrassing and bad for everyone, because it ruins your enjoyment of her vagina and can stop sex altogether if it’s not addressed properly. So here’s what to do.

     Talk about it – please!

You have two meaningful options: discard the relationship or persevere. If you are going to discard the relationship due to it being too awkward to bring this up, at least slip the proverbial note under her door and send her a text after to say, “BTW go get your vag checked, it smells weird”. She will hate it more than anything, but it’s better than not telling her. It’s the right thing to do.

If you are going to stick around, you need to discuss bad vag with her. Timing is everything, and the more low-key, kind and funny you can make this chat, the better it will be. You do not need to turn this into a ‘we need to talk’ talk; casually mentioning it is a reasonable bet, since nobody wants their vagina to smell weird.

You could say you noticed that her vagina had a certain smell to it that seemed weird/different to normal. If you have been sleeping with someone who consistently has vaginal odour, you can also pretend it has just happened to use this strategy.

She may know she has a problem and explain it to you. Or, maybe she doesn’t know, and asks you what you mean.

Explain what the smell is (using words like ‘weird’, ‘unusual’ and ‘different to normal’, and if it’s fishy, say so). You can say you are no expert, and of course you love her vag, but it’s possible something is going on with her bacteria. Reassure her in no uncertain terms that you love her vagina and want to make sure everything is ok, but you know about conditions that are not STDs, but can get passed around, so you need her to treat it so sex can resume as normal.

There really is no great way to say this, so just do your best. Whatever you do, don’t accuse her of having an STI, but also be sure not to eliminate that from the equation if it’s possible she actually does have one. People get STIs all the time, no big deal. If she has a fishy smell or a bad/off smell, it could be trich or gonorrhoea.

Managing her feelings with courage

  • Be sensitive to the fact that she is going to be self-conscious about it.  Be gentle, affirming and positive about the outcome. Be casual about it. No need for alarm – there is a solution for everything.
  • Although vaginas (and penises) are very funny and everybody knows it, keep the jokes to yourself. Let her make the jokes, and laugh where appropriate, just the right amount.
  • Keep it to yourself. Don’t tell a single other soul. She would die if she thought you and your mates were sitting around laughing about it, and again, it is just begging to be joked about, but try to find something else funny.
  • Don’t be too scared to bring it up – she obviously doesn’t know, or thinks you can’t tell. Telling her you can smell it will be somewhat of a relief for her, particularly when you…
  • …bring her the solution. Send her to this website, tell her you have had a look around and there are solutions.
  • Tell her that it’s possible that you are sharing bacteria, and that you don’t want to be part of the problem (if you are not using condoms). If she is diagnosed with BV, there is a book for her and a book for you.
  • She is probably going to need to visit her doctor for an examination and a PCR test and full culture to rule out/confirm what bacteria reside in her vagina.
  • Make an effort to understand what has happened to her by reading everything you can stomach on this website and other resources.
  • Talk to her about her other symptoms, and make it a shared problem, not just something that’s happening to her that is inconvenient or gross. Be helpful. Do some internet research and see what you can find out. Go with her to the appointment if she wants. Be part of the solution.
  • Reassure her that it doesn’t affect the way you feel about her. Depending on her maturity and life experience, it could be a bit of a blow. The message women receive from our culture is that their vaginas and bodies are the only worthwhile thing they have to offer in life (even if that sounds incredible – it’s generally just true), so taking her vagina out of the equation by making it defective and disgusting can have a much greater psychological impact than you may assume.
  • Make sure she doesn’t put anything inside her vagina to try to ‘treat’ her problem before going to get tested to avoid false-negatives.

     What to do before the test results come back

  • Once the swab has been taken, she can use a six per cent hydrogen peroxide douche to clean out her vagina of odours and fluids – this is a short-term fix so you can have sex without nasty smells, but is not a cure and she is still infectious due to the biofilm so no bareback. It must be six per cent – three per cent is not strong enough.
  • Until the test results come back, avoid oral sex, because mouths and vaginas share a lot of commonalities and bacteria can cross-contaminate, even temporarily. Avoid penetrative sex without a condom. If she is feeling embarrassed, you won’t have to worry about sex because nobody will be getting any.
  • Do not ejaculate inside of her. Semen has an alkaline pH which makes bacterial infections and overgrowth worse in about three seconds flat. There are many other fun places to present your liquid gifts to her, so find one.
  • Be prepared for her to get upset and feel ashamed and dirty and humiliated and horrified. She will get over it and proceed with her treatment to fix the problem, whatever it is, but she needs to feel supported by you. Even if you are disgusted, don’t let it show. Be a grown-up about it, and eventually it will be resolved, and you can both move on with your happy lives and it will be a mere blip in the past, with everyone a bit wiser and more bacterially-conscious.
  • If you have been having unprotected sex with her, you also need to be treated, so it is in your best interests to make sure you know what is wrong with her, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Don’t act like this is just a women’s problem – it could easily be a problem for you too, but without symptoms.

     What’s wrong with her vagina?

  • If she has a fishy smell, she either has an STI, bacterial vaginosis (BV) or aerobic vaginitis (AV). This website is full of information on BV, plus treatments, but you need a diagnosis first. If the diagnosis is positive for BV, you need to be treated too – we’ve written a book just for men on removing the biofilms caused by BV on penises.
  • There are a few different types of bad vag, and your girlfriend needs to establish what sort hers is, and resolve it. Bad smells are almost always bacterial in nature, outside of obvious hygiene practices like showering every day.

If you need further questions answered, Ask Aunt Vadge – she knows everything!


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.