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We’ve seen “smell good” tips on Tik Tok, we’ve read about it in articles and we’ve debated about it in hygiene aisles, but how should you smell down there?

Planned Parenthood Educator here, ready to debunk some of the myths about hygiene and odor.

Spoiler alert: they don’t always correlate

When it comes to bodily smells, there are thousands of questions. Let’s start with hygiene, which means keeping the body clean. There are a lot of myths floating around about how to clean the body and keep the penis and vagina healthy. In fact, I recently read an article from the Washington Post that addressed myths from feminine wash products and how harmful that can be for confused teens feeling the pressure to be “perfect” smelling down there. 

As the article so beautifully states: “Vaginas should smell like vaginas—not creamsicles,” and they’re right!

Cleaning the vagina is a delicate process. Even the smallest change can throw off a person’s PH. So, the healthiest way to clean the vulva (which is the external genital area around the vaginal opening) is gently—this skin is soft and sensitive y’all!— with water and unscented soap; or even just plain water. 

The vagina (the internal part) is self-cleaning. But if that’s the case, you may be wondering, “What’s the deal with discharge?”

Discharge means fluid and it’s totally normal. Vaginal discharge can actually be a sign of the vagina cleaning itself. Discharge also helps the vagina stay lubricated, since it is a muscle that has the ability to stretch up to 200% (kind of like a balloon), so it doesn’t feel dry or itchy. 

People have different amounts of discharge and usually it’s clear or white – and it can be slightly yellow when it dries. Normal discharge may have a mild odor (which can be different for everybody) and can vary in thickness and color throughout a person’s menstrual cycle. It’s a great idea to get a sense of your regular vaginal fluid patterns to understand more about your own body.

When you are washing up, nothing needs to go inside a vagina to “clean” it. Feminine wash, like douches, or body wash, as well as unclean toys or fingers and scented tampons can disrupt the healthy bacteria and pH balance of the vagina; which can lead to uncomfortable infections like bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections or yeast infections.

Even though the vagina is self-cleaning, hygiene is still an important part of caring for your sexual health. Improper hygiene can sometimes cause a build-up of shedding skin cells, oils and moisture that collects around the clitoris or folds of the labia, called smegma.

That said, if a vulva smells really bad, fishy or yeasty it’s a great idea to make an appointment with a health care provider! 

If your vagina smells like—well, a vagina, it’s important to remember that vaginas and vulvas are not a field of flowers, so you shouldn’t expect them to smell like a meadow on the first day of spring… and if they do—you may have some problems later. 

So what about the penis?

I’m glad you asked!

A penis also needs a warm water rinse daily. If a penis has foreskin, pull back gently and wash underneath. Practicing good hygiene can help prevent smegma build-up under the foreskin, which people with a penis are susceptible to as well.

Discharge from the penis, which normally happens during sexual arousal, is called semen (or ejaculate). This discharge is usually a white liquid. We always say everybody is different and it’s true! The color, odor and texture of semen is different for everyone. It might be thick and sticky, stringy or clumpy.

If you notice random discharge from the penis that is NOT pre-ejaculate (aka pre-cum, which secretes out of the penis during sexual excitement before ejaculation) or semen, or if discharge appears or smells unusual for your own body, I recommend talking with a doctor or nurse. 

So, to sum it all up: 

  • Your genitals should smell like genitals and that’s perfectly normal and okay! 
  • Hygiene matters, but it shouldn’t include heavy perfumes or invasive cleaning tools. 
  • Your body should be handled with care and honored in its natural state and smell, free of shame or embarrassment!

That’s all. Case closed.


Educators like me are also available to answer any other questions Text PPNOW to 774636 or https://www.plannedparenthood.org/online-tools/chat

Tags: vagina, penis, hygiene, sexed