After discussing fibroids, an upcoming surgery or an irregular period, it never fails… “Dear Doctor, one more thing; my vagina is too wet! Why?” I always take this as a compliment when the question comes at the end of a visit. This tells me my patients feel comfortable and embraced their desire to ask that one last probing question.
My patients currently are not pregnant; I stopped practicing obstetrics years ago. However, medical degree and “gynecologist” title aside, I recall what it was like being pregnant with my own, and being surprised about the affects of pregnancy on the vagina. Due to the higher levels of estrogen and progesterone during pregnancy, it’s common to walk around feeling like you’re in a perpetual state of leaking amniotic fluid, or perhaps the Dove soap just never washed away. The amount of increased vaginal discharge you have will be noticeable. But this discussion will focus on the experiences of non-pregnant women.
In premenopausal women, having vaginal discharge, or what physicians call physiologic leukorrhea is natural. An infection is unlikely as long as you are not experiencing new symptoms of pain, irritation, burning, itching, or fishy odor.
Vaginal fluid, discharge, secretions, moisture, wetness, or whatever term you may use to describe your vagina is caused by the internal environment of vaginal skin cells, healthy bacteria, and glycogen and sugar metabolism that takes place on a cellular level. You vaginal pH is acidic, between 4 and 4.5, and also plays a large role in keeping the normal bacteria that lives there in balance. Your natural vaginal discharge is often white, clear, or thin and watery. It may have slight changes in odor and even sometimes appear yellow or clumpy. The volume, or amount, of vaginal discharge you have will fluctuate throughout the month.
There are several factors that may affect the amount of vaginal discharge one may experience:
1. Your Menstrual Cycle
Your vaginal discharge will change throughout your menstrual cycle if you are not taking hormones. It will typically be thinner and heavier in the middle of your cycle as this is the time you will be ovulating. You will notice a heavier amount during this time, as it naturally exists to also help sperm find its way through your vagina and into the cervix and to your fallopian tubes where conception happens.
It becomes thicker at less fertile times of your menstrual cycle such as immediately before your period.
Women often complain of increased vaginal discharge and changes in odor after sex. Particularly for women who have sex with men, if you do not use condoms with your partner you may experience an increase in the volume of vaginal discharge up to several days after. Semen can change your vaginal pH from its acidic to a slightly more basic environment. This may change your odor as well. The amount of seminal fluid you are receiving may also make it appear that your own vaginal discharge is increased. You will also produce more vaginal discharge during sex from being aroused and after orgasm. Couples often struggle with using condoms, especially in long-term relationships. However if an increase in discharge after sex is annoying you, you can always try a condom experiment to see if using one will make you feel better.
Certain medications and hormones can affect the amount of vaginal discharge you have. Mainly the use of birth control pills, progesterone only contraceptive pills, Lupron, and the sub dermal implant Nexplanon can all affect your vaginal discharge. Progesterone only contraception often decreases the amount of discharge but also causes pH shifts in your vaginal and irregular spotting. Blood will affect your vaginal environment and causes changes in the character and amount of vaginal fluid.
4. Foreign Bodies/Intrauterine Devices
Anything left inside your vagina for prolonged periods of time may affect the amount or the consistency of your vaginal discharge. Women who forget to take out their tampons will often experience increased amounts of discharge and strong odor. If you’re not sure, you must see your gynecologist to be examined to have it removed. Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) can and will change the consistency and amount of your vaginal fluid. Progesterone containing IUDs such as the Mirena, Sklya, or Liletta often produce a thicker consistency, changes in odor, and pH shifts that could make bacterial overgrowth and bacterial vaginitis more common. But they are safe, and an excellent form of long-term contraception. They are convenient to use and ideal for women who struggle with remembering to take a daily pill.
5. Vaginal Hygiene
I am constantly reminding women that the vagina is self-cleansing. Douching, vinegar washes, feminine hygiene products and putting fingers inside to clean is unnecessary and can disrupt the natural preferred environment in your vagina. There are several types of natural bacteria that live in every woman’s vagina. Placing internal cleansing products, probiotics, yogurt, and other natural remedies may exacerbate infection and pH changes causing irritation and discomfort by killing healthy bacteria and causing overgrowth. What one finds helpful may not be true for the next. If you are using natural remedies because you are finding your vaginal discharge to be excessive be sure to bring the product to your visit so we can be better informed and guide you.
If you wear daily pantiliners, even when you are not on your period, you may be affecting your vaginal discharge. Cotton underwear is all you need if you are feeling too wet. Daily pantiliner use can promote bacterial overgrowth, skin irritation, and produce allergies. They are meant to be used during the last days of your menstrual cycle when large pads or tampons are not necessary, but you are still spotting.
Lastly, do your vagina a favor and allow her room to breathe. Yoga pants are meant for yoga class. They were not meant to be worn all day long. Too much heat can cause excessive sweating, promote unpleasant odor, and promote bacterial overgrowth. This can also happen if you consistently wear pants that are too tight with thong underwear.
Honor Health Vow #2
I Vow to Stay Connected to My Body to Hear and Feel Everything it has to Say
To Join the Health Mindfulness Movement and to explore more informed topics written by Dr. Liza M. Colimon visit healthvows.org