What Does Your Discharge Actually Mean? We Break it Down
The Debrief: What is discharge, why do we get it and how do we know if it's normal? Basically every possible question, answered..
When I left school, one of my teachers wrote in my leavers' book that he suspected I'd grow up to be a 'successful rocket scientist,' adding, as if to really hammer home just how little he knew me: 'or something like that.' I like to imagine him glowing with pride on discovering I grew up to be the go-to woman for articles on vaginal fluids.
What is vaginal discharge?
It's stuff that comes out of your vagina, and it can range in colour from a kind of clear liquid to a darker brown, and almost every colour of the rainbow in between. No one's yet created a Dulux paint chart for this yet, but I remain hopeful.
Why do I get vaginal discharge?
Here's the science bit. Imagine me flicking my hair like I'm a white-coated actress in a L'Oreal advert, only instead of shampoo I am holding a tube of fanny-juice.
Your vagina is a bit like the London Underground: there's loads going on down there. In order to maintain top vaginal condition, discharge is produced by glands inside the cervix. The amount of discharge varies throughout the month, and depending on other factors too, such as your hormones. Discharge can change during pregnancy or as a result of certain kinds of infections, but it also fluctuates generally throughout the course of your monthly cycle.
Is vaginal discharge normal?
The short answer is yes. If you have a vagina but don't leak any fluid at all, then you're either the luckiest person in the world or – depending on the reason – the unluckiest. In fact, just as I recently got on my high horse about period sex, and the fact that I hate the idea that what my vagina does might be disgusting to blokes, I will continue in my mission to wave my dirty linen in public. Because sod it, my vag leaks stuff sometimes, and if I were ashamed of every bit of juice I ever dribbled on a gusset I'd be permanently paralysed with shame and never have the chance to get any washing done.
So. Are you ready for an excessively detailed catalogue of different types of vaginal discharge? Of course you are! What better way to spend your lunch break!
Clear vaginal discharge (colourless, odourless)
Basically a normal day. Nothing to see here. It might get a bit thicker when I'm ovulating, or naturally be more copious when I think I'm in with a chance of getting fingered on a night bus, but it's pretty standard fare.
Probably also a normal day, perhaps my vag wants to mix things up a bit. This usually happens around the middle of my monthly cycle, or when I'm wearing black knickers that it'll show up strongly against, because of Sod's law.
Light brown discharge
Due on my period. This is when I stock up on tampons and dirty looks for anyone who makes jokes about me being on my period.
Yes, we all get this sometimes, there is no shame in it. If you have never sat at your desk in the summer, wearing cheap office trousers which heat your nethers to a temperature better suited to the planet Mercury, then you are basically superwoman and you need to start fighting evil, immediately.
However, while it's totally normal to occasionally smell like you've been sitting on the bins at the back of a takeaway, strong-smelling discharge can also be symptomatic of some stuff that's worth getting checked out. Bacterial vaginosis is a possibility – a really easily treatable issue caused by an imbalance in the bacteria in your vagina. If your smell is due to the discharge itself, and not just because you've been fermenting on a hot car seat, pop to the doctor and they'll sort you out.
Thick white discharge that has a sort of texture to it
If I get this it's almost certainly because I have thrush, which can be caused by a whole host of things but for me is usually caused by antibiotics. The first time I ever got this thick white discharge, accompanied by an itch so bad I worried people would think I was a sex pest, I worried that perhaps I was going to die. Literally no one had ever told me that it can be caused by antibiotics, so after a nudge from a wiser friend picked up some Canesten. After, of course, I had bought her a grateful pint.
Other kinds which I have so far been lucky enough not to sample:
Yellow discharge (or sometimes green discharge)
The NHS helpfully tells me that this can be a symptom of trichomoniasis – a common STI caused by a tiny parasite. Don't panic, it's far from deadly, and it's easily treated with antibiotics. These in turn may well give you thrush. For vaginal bacteria, this is a beautiful demonstration of the circle of life, even though for you it's a pain in the twat.
Bloody discharge or pink discharge
Stay calm. It might just be that your cycle's a bit off, or you have some spotting in between your period. But there might be something a bit more serious at work, so if you're worried then do get it checked out, especially if it's accompanied by cramps, or pain when you urinate. I'm not going to list all the possibilities here, because the section below should cover it.
Should I go to the doctor about my weird discharge?
Here's the deal: you know your body better than I ever could, and no online article in the world can either give you the reassurance that all's well or hand you a prescription slip and some advice on vaginal mucus. I can tell you that most vaginas constantly leak a selection of different juices, of varying colours and flavours. Like Heinz 57 varieties, but smeared into the gusset of your pants. I can also tell you that discussing your vaginal discharge with a trusted friend or loved-one can be an excellent way get advice, as well as to help smash the weird stigma that seems to attach to anything vaguely fanny-related. We need to love our vaginas more, and embrace what they do in the course of their monthly cleaning cycle, as we embrace all the other things our bodies do that prevent us from falling to bits at the age of twenty.
Sadly, although I can wave my 'pussy pride' flag, what I can't tell you is whether your particular discharge is one that requires medical attention. So if you truly love your vagina, and you're worried about its health, act like a concerned parent and take it straight off to the doctor.
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