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Image / Editorial

Hit me up: I’m having sex four or five times a day and I’ve started to notice a bad smell


by Rhona Mcauliffe
30th May 2018
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Dear Rhona,

I’ve got a bit of an embarrassing problem and know that I should probably go to a doctor but can’t face it yet.  I’ve recently started seeing someone and we’re having a lot of sex, like up to four or five times per day, maybe more.  I mainly see him at weekends and notice pretty early on that my vagina has a strong fishy smell.  I’ve started showering immediately after we have sex as am so self-conscious about it but it doesn’t make a difference.  It’s painful going to the loo and feels very dry by the end of the weekend.  The weird thing is, it gets a lot better during the week and is almost clear by the following Friday.  Apart from being embarrassing, this is also not helping my general issues with my vagina.  My labia minora are pretty large and I’m hoping I can afford to have labial surgery one day.  I wonder if this might be contributing to the smell though it’s never happened before? Could it be him? I’ve also gone to the same male family doctor since I was three and cannot even imagine discussing this with him.  I’ve Googled my symptoms but most forums end with a recommended trip to the doctors.  What do you think?

Shtanking, Dublin.

 

Studying to be a doctor was never on the cards for me.  As well as contracting a problematic allergy to school, and later college, work, I just didn’t have the requisite brain cells.  Or the implacable drive to succeed.  But I do feel it was an opportunity missed.  Not only do I have a monster tolerance for real-life gore, I will always get amongst it with relish.  Popping, prodding, descaling, dressing, cleaning, picking, sterilising, I’m your woman.  Just ask my kids.

I’m also the daughter of an aspiring DCI and amateur physician who, pre-Google, referenced a bulging library of medical almanacs to diagnose our many childhood ailments.  So, although I am not a doctor, I have pre-loaded with three decades worth of hack diagnoses.  I’m leading with this disclaimer as I can speculate – with no medical qualifications whatsoever – on what your issue may be but ultimately I will be recommending you go see a person who passed twelve years of actual medical exams.

So, I’m sure you know that no two vaginas smell the same.  We all have our own, individual musk and despite the efforts of global pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, we should never try to disguise the smell with douches or talc as this messes with our delicate pH balance.  The pH level of our vaginas – whether it’s acidic or alkaline – is crucial in establishing if we are healthy or not.  The pH scale runs from 0 to 14, with a pH of less than 7 considered to be acidic, and of more than 7 to be alkaline.  Depending on your age or life stage, the normal pH level of your vagina is between 3.8 and 4.5. This is moderately acidic, creating a barrier that prevents ‘bad’ bacteria and yeast from multiplying too quickly and causing infection.

There are kits you can buy like this one to test your pH level at home. This will at least determine if your levels are off, which I suspect they are.  Your mail suggests that this is a new smell for you and is particularly potent, with a distinctly ‘fishy’ odour.  This is important as, as above, we all have a different scent and what’s normal for one woman is not for the other etc.  So the change in smell is significant and suggests you may have a mild infection.

One of the most common vaginal complaints is Bacterial Vaginosis or BV, typically identifiable by its fishy scent and a light grey discharge, among other symptoms.  Doctors have yet to establish what causes BV as it strikes both sexually active and inactive women but it can be triggered by a new sexual partner, especially if he is not wearing a condom.  Funnily enough, while our vaginas are acidic, semen is alkaline.  However, there are potentially lots of other contributing factors like diet, stress, hormones and gut health so you don’t need to banish him from the kingdom just yet.

What’s definitely not helping are the five-plus, post-coital showers per day.  Using soap or shower gel on your labia or inside your vagina is also a big No-No.  Use warm water only and ideally shower a maximum of once per day.  There are over-the-counter pessaries you can purchase for BV but I would strongly suggest you consult with your pharmacist to establish your symptoms and nail a proper diagnosis.

Meanwhile, it’s time to break up with the doctor who treated your strep throat when you were five and find a female practitioner you are happy with.  If it is BV, doctors will often prescribe antibiotics to clear the infection.  But again, it’s important to get a professional opinion if it persists.

It’s also highly unlikely that the size of your labia minora has anything to do with anything.  This little gallery on The Labia Library, is a good reference point for different labial shapes and sizes, though it is admittedly narrow with just twenty images.

Remember too that judgy partners and mainstream porn skew our sense of ‘normal.’  Porn actresses are chosen for their tidy, photogenic bits, then their acting ability.  Yes, it’s true! Many have had labial surgery to conform to the Barbie ‘ideal’ but they are in no way representative of all women.  Also, a partner who negatively compares your vagina to the other vaginas he’s met is a certifiable douche.  I say this because how partners relate to your vagina has a huge influence on how you perceive it.  There is no normal!

I never thought I’d quote Blake Lively, like ever but here’s what she has to say on the subject: The most beautiful thing you can wear is confidence.  And that’s an undeniable fact.   It’s just the fishy smell that has to go.

Rhona McAuliffe might not be a trained therapist but she does have very big ears, quite a long nose and a gaping heart.  If you have a problem that won’t just go away, she’d love to hear it.  Write to Rhona at [email protected]

 

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