What is vaginal discharge?
Here at Stix, we believe it’s important to talk and teach about topics that may not be widely discussed — but not because they don’t happen — they just remain behind closed doors or in private conversation, out of stigma or shame or both. Vaginal discharge is a good example. Almost everyone has some form of vaginal discharge. This is completely normal, but just happens to be something that most people don't talk about. Below, find more information about how to identify different types of vaginal discharge, how your discharge changes over the course of your cycle, and warning signs for abnormal discharge and when you may want to seek out a medical professional.
Like so many other bodily functions, vaginal discharge plays an important role in the upkeep and maintenance of your body. Vaginal discharge acts as a ‘housekeeper’ of sorts. Fluids from glands inside the vagina, cervix, or urethra play important roles in carrying away dead cells and/or bacteria, or assisting with conception (helping sperm travel to fertilize an egg). The presence of fluid allows for a flushing out or in as needed, and can help keep the vagina clean and prevent infection. Healthy discharge is typically clear or white-ish in color and may have a slight odor but nothing too overpowering. Three types of vaginal discharge include:
Cervical mucus: As the name hints at, cervical mucus is produced by the cervix. It changes throughout the menstrual cycle — wet and slippery cervical mucus indicates fertility. This type of discharge makes it easy for sperm to swim to an egg at ovulation.
Arousal fluid: Arousal fluid is produced in response to sexual stimulation by glands in and around the vagina in order to lubricate the vagina for sex. Arousal fluid is typically clear, wet, moist, and slippery.
Seminal fluid: Seminal fluid is identified as a viscous, white secretion from the urethra, not the cervix. Seminal fluid in women results as a response to sexual stimulation. Not all women produce seminal fluid regularly.
The types of discharge you find yourself experiencing may be dependent on sexual activity (as shown with the examples above), but there may also be notable differences in color and consistency of discharge before, during and after menstruation. At the end of your period you may find that you have brownish discharge, mainly old blood exiting your body. Immediately after your period, there may be very little discharge (some individuals note more dryness during this time), but over the next seven days the amount of discharge will increase. In the days leading up to ovulation, the amount of discharge can increase by 30 times what it was before. At this time, discharge will be more watery and elastic. During ovulation, discharge will be at its highest. At this time, it will be in the color of egg whites, and a similar consistency to egg whites. After ovulation and before menstruation, as the cycle begins again, you may find that you have less discharge, but that your discharge has a thicker consistency.
The examples above detail what to look for within normal amounts and types of discharge, but if you are experiencing abnormal vaginal discharge, you may find yourself wondering why. Change in the vagina’s balance of normal bacteria is often the main culprit of a change in the smell, color, or texture of discharge. Changes in bacteria levels are often a result of the following:
- Antibiotic or steroid use
- Bacterial vaginosis or other bacterial infections
- Certain birth control pills
- Certain sexually transmitted infections (STI’s)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Yeast infections
- Vaginitis; or irritation in or around the vagina
If your vaginal discharge is bloody or brown, cloudy/yellow, yellow with a bad smell, thick/white/cheesy, or white/gray/yellow with fishy odor, you should consult a medical professional. Important questions to keep in mind as you speak to your doctor can include:
- When did the abnormal discharge begin?
- What color is the discharge? Is there a smell?
- Do you have any itching, pain, or burning in or around the vagina?
Whatever the cause of changes in your bacterial levels, knowledge about what may be normal or abnormal for your own body is a key piece. Keep in mind the consistency, color, and smell that is consistent with ‘normal’ discharge, as well as what is normal for you (because every body is different!). It will also be useful to keep in mind the changes that often come with your menstrual cycle, and what to expect over the course of the month or as your sexual activity decreases or increases. If you still have questions about vaginal health, or what to look out for, you can always come back to Real Talk to learn more!