Aunt Vadge: how do I tell my girlfriend she has a smelly vagina?

Dear Aunt Vadge,

First, thank you for your website. It was the first site that came up when I searched “how to tell your loved one about her vaginal odor.” I am thankful that this resource exists, and it could very well not exist.

Second, the backstory: I have been dating “M” since 01/09/2018. I am madly in love with her, and I plan to ask her to marry me during the second quarter of 2019. She is a wonderful woman, but as you have surely guessed, she has a vaginal odor that is a significant, disturbing problem for me, a man who is sensitive to smells, and who even sprays perfume on his bed to sleep in. Living in the aura of a bad smell is, for me, intolerable.

Finally, the reason for my inquiry: “M” had a hysterectomy prior to our relationship, successfully conquered a heroin addiction (3 years clean), and has severe Bi-Polar disorder. She has been mistreated horribly by her past partners, and these experiences have scarred her deeply.

I immediately noticed the odor when we first met at the gym – I now know that any time she is in yoga pants the odor emanates with the strength of a wall-mounted Air-Wick oil heater. As I am not a shallow man by any means, I discounted it as a temporary issue.

It was not a temporary issue.

Over the past 11 months, I have tried on just two separate occasions to talk about the issue with her. The first time, I asked if we could shower together before sex. She pressed me for a reason, and I fibbed, telling her that I had noticed an odor for the first time. She panicked, became irate that I was telling her that her “pussy stank,” (her words, not mine), and even left my home.

The second time, I was preparing to perform my now-usual post-coitus ritual of exfoliating my member with lathered hand soap, when I made the mistake of inadvertently touching my member before bringing my hand to my face. I gagged reflexively, she witnessed the near-vomiting event, and became incredibly self-conscious, and manically so, going so far as becoming suicidal.

I consoled her by telling her about my significant sensitivity to smell, and took the weight. “It’s my problem, I’m just hyper sensitive to smell.” This is quite true, but it is equally true that I have never smelled something as involuntarily-stomach-churning as the miasma of her vaginal odor.

To make matters worse, I recently began to notice a hint of the odor emanating from my own private area, which I understand to be a serious issue after having browsed your website. I do not ever sleep with other women, nor would I, but she and I do not wear condoms due to her inability to get pregnant and the numb, sensationless feeling of condom-bound intercourse. This caused me to worry for my own health, and to resolve to press the issue.

Today, I conspicuously grabbed a bottle of Summer’s Eve during our usual weekly visit to Target. She seemed not to notice. I carried it with me and, as we shopped, she squatted to the floor to peer at the bottom shelf. I am 6′ 2,” and I could smell the odor from five feet away with enough force to make me gag. She again seemed not to notice, and thankfully so.

It should speak to the height my perception of her value that I plan to ask her to marry me despite this problem. I could never be so shallow as to make this a make-or-break issue.

However, I fear greatly that she will not be receptive when I broach the issue explicitly, and that she will instead become wildly depressed again, or that she will leave me. I can’t have that happen. She is far too important to me.

With all of this said, I’d like to know (1) whether any service exists by which I could somehow bring the issue to her attention anonymously, and (2) whether it would pose a significant health risk if I were to continue to ignore the issue or attempt to fix it on my end only.

Thank you again for this website and for its wealth of resources. I know I may be able to answer these questions through more research. This message is almost more for me than for her; It has been mildly cathartic to compile my thoughts and examine my feelings. It would be meaningful to me to receive any response whatsoever.

Lover of M

Dear Lover of M,

Thank you for your elegantly written letter.

You are certainly in a sticky situation. It’s extremely difficult to have this conversation with someone who is hypersensitive to perceived criticism. It is not an enviable position to find yourself in.

It would be great if someone else was to tell M that she has a problem with her vagina to spare you the drama. Ideally, that person should be her doctor so she can get testing and treatment. But, getting her to the doctor is going to be the issue.

You have two main options:

  • Send an anonymous text message to M’s phone suggesting she get tested for STIs (which will mean diagnosis and then appropriate treatment)
  • Tell M yourself, so she gets tested and treatment (and come what may – be brave!)

M may have bacterial vaginosis (BV) or aerobic vaginitis (AV), but she may also have a sexually transmitted infection (STI). She needs to be tested for everything by her doctor no matter what.

As you’ve discovered by the odour on your penis, you have now contracted whatever it is that M has. This is not a great situation since if M is successfully treated, you will then pass it back to her next time you have sex and so the problem may persist.

I suggest visiting your doctor and explaining the situation so you can also request testing and treatment. Explain the situation and ask the doctor to test you for BV/AV microbes as well if possible.

Being a good partner means saying hard things sometimes

The elephant in the room is your fear of M leaving you if you tell her that her vagina has something wrong. I’d encourage you to consider the value of navigating this difficult conversation now, as part of learning how to have hard conversations with one another. Discussing hard things with tact and kindness is an act of love and can be argued is the foundation of a healthy, happy relationship.

You earn the trust and respect of your partner via healthy communication, but it does take two to communicate. If you approach any subject with tact, kindness and honesty, then you’ve done all you can and have been a good partner to M.

You are not responsible for how M reacts and you can’t stop her from leaving you if she doesn’t like something you’ve said. The answer is not to completely avoid saying the hard thing so you don’t upset M; you can’t censor yourself like that all of your life or take responsibility for another person’s reaction. We are all responsible for our emotions, not another person.

It’s important for you to consider your needs here, and your responsibilities as a good partner in a healthy relationship. You have a responsibility to yourself to care for your wellbeing and not prioritise M’s over your own.

If not you, then who?

The guts of it is that sometimes we stink and if the person closest to you can’t tell you that, then who will? We need people to tell us when we stink, when we have a booger, or when there is toilet paper hanging off our shoe!

You are – as M’s lover – unfortunately lumped with this tough job simply because nobody else is ever going to tell her.

Facing facts

Her pussy does stink. That’s not your personal opinion; it is not you being hypersensitive. She has a vagina problem that smells horrible, and you can bet that you are not the only person who can smell it.

Imagine if that was you, and nobody told you? It would be devastating to think that nobody cared about you enough to tell you something so important.

It’s incredibly difficult news to hear, but it’s possible that M’s vagina has smelt like this for as long as she can remember. Maybe she doesn’t know it smells, or maybe she thinks it’s normal.

You have it too

Remember that you have contracted whatever it is she has and your sexual health is now compromised.

If it is BV or AV, it can be extremely difficult to get rid of, particularly in men, so my advice is to protect yourself first and foremost – stop putting your penis into her vagina without a condom. Both of you need to be treated successfully before you resume bareback sex.

Remember that if you don’t get treated, and you and M don’t last the distance as a couple, you may pass this on to your next lover’s vagina. You cannot fix this at your end alone if you continue to have bareback sex with M.

Bad vag is the enemy of sexual health and wellbeing, and if left untreated will severely impact your sexual happiness. Testing and treatment is essential, and that means someone has to break the news to M.

Best of luck, Lover of M. I’d love to know how you go, so please feel free to write back to me anytime!

Aunt Vadge