Why does my girlfriend's stuff smell so strongly?
August 28, 2005 10:30 PM   Subscribe

For the first time in long life experience, I have a girlfriend who is very stinky "down there". What to do?

She is clean and hygenic, and she says that it was always like this, not some new thing. Her womanly stuff has a VERY strong fishy smell, the stereotypical thing men complain about but that I have never come across before. She doesn't like the smell, so she rejects / avoids my face or fingers during sex if they are "dirty". I can live with it, but it isn't great, and the fact that she so dislikes it makes going down on her not as nice as I would like it to be.

Is this normal? Is there anything she can do to change it? Douche? Diet? Some sort of undiagnosed infection?

I live in a part of the world where it is really hard to find a sympathetic and knowledgeable gynecologist, so "go to a gynecologist" is not going to be very helpful! Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I dated a girl when I was in college for a couple years and I don't know if she didn't stink at first, or if she always smelled and my brain just filtered it for me, but it smelled bad for a while. We talked about it, and she talked to her doctor and her gynocologist, and they came up with nothing in exams.

About a year later, her gynocologist moved and she got a new one, and at the first visit he said "you've had a yeast infection for like two years." So maybe a second opinion from a doctor could really help. It helped us out.
posted by mathowie at 10:50 PM on August 28, 2005

Douching is definitely not recommended to improve the general quality of one's vagina. It does more harm than good as it messes with the natural flora of the vagina and removes the good bacteria and fluids along with the nasty stuff. I have yet to hear of a situation wherein douching is actually called for.

Things that may help. Mind you I don't know what the problem is, but none of the following are going to hurt anyone :

- Yogurt. Applying nonflavored (KEY! Sugar is bad for the vagina as it stimulates yeast production) can help improve the vaginal flora and treat yeast infections. Also, adding yogurt to one's diet helps maintain vaginal health.

- Cranberry juice. Don't apply it. Drink it. It does wonders for the kidneys and urinary tract health, which in turn helps improve the general vaginal atmosphere.

- If there IS a yeast infection present, a DROP (one. drop.) of Tea Tree Oil in a cup of warm water used as a rinse (or on a washcloth as a wipe) can help clear up yeast infections. This treatment has worked for me better than any over the counter creams, but I can't stress enough that you want to SERIOUSLY DILUTE the oil. I usually used this in the shower with a washcloth and then poured the remainder around the area and rinsed off with warm water.

In terms of hygiene, don't use anything more extravagant than warm soapy water. Those sweet smelling products for a woman's special flower aren't going to do any better and may do more harm than good considering the chemical content.

And yes, seeing a doctor if this is a chronic issue is definitely recommended. Matt's suggestion of a 2 year long yeast infection is highly plausible.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:39 PM on August 28, 2005

Yeast infections dont smell bad. There's a very common infection called bacterial vaginosis, or BV, that emits a fishy odor. It's very easy to treat with a single 2g dose of flagyl.
posted by mert at 11:44 PM on August 28, 2005

Douching is very bad for a vagina - leads to infections because it kills off the good bacteria. Diet could be the problem (probably not an infection if she's always had this smell); Sugar and garlic are two well known culprits for vagina odor. Also the vagina sweats, so if she's a sweaty person this could cause odors - but have you checked things out right after she's showered? Yogurt (with acidophilus) is very helpful for balancing the vaginal bacteria's - some women naturally need this boost but most of them are prone to yeast infections.
posted by LadyBonita at 11:47 PM on August 28, 2005

I 2nd was mert said - just in case she hasn't really always had this smell. BV doesn't have any other symptoms usually, except the smell.
posted by LadyBonita at 11:52 PM on August 28, 2005

*what* mert said.
posted by LadyBonita at 11:53 PM on August 28, 2005

(Speaking as someone who doesn't own a vagina, nor has been terribly close to one in a long time)

As I understand it, a fishy odour (specifically fishy) is always symptomatic of an infection. BV and chlamydia are the usual culprits, IIRC. (The source for this is either Sue Johansen, or the people at the Hassle Free Clinic; I can't honestly remember).

She should get swabs and cultures for everything--and so should you, just to be sure that you're fine and don't ping-pong something back and forth. Men (I'm assuming you're penilely equipped) can very easily carry bacteria and remain asymptomatic.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 1:23 AM on August 29, 2005

There's a vitamin sold in most drugstores called Acidophilus, that "replenishes bacterial flora". It's basically the living parts of yogurt that help yeast infections put into a little pill. It's always worth a shot for her to take some.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 4:42 AM on August 29, 2005 [1 favorite]

A little more info about BV- it's not sexually transmitted, and you can get it from pretty much anything- a girlfriend of mine got it from trying out a different brand of tampons!

I have yet to find a non-antibiotic remedy for BV, but in the past when I've had it, I've taken (IIRC) metronidazole and it cleared up fast. (Just make sure to take the entire course of antibiotics, and with this particular type, DO NOT DRINK ALCOHOL during and for 3 days after you finish the meds.)
posted by elisabeth r at 6:31 AM on August 29, 2005

Sounds like BV to me too. BV is much more noticable/pungent/downright rottenfishalicious when semen is present. (Yeast infections don't smell foul, more like...bread.)
posted by desuetude at 6:48 AM on August 29, 2005

Everyone says yeast infections don't smell bad, but when but when I had a yeast infection (and yes, diagnosis checked, not self-diagnosis) the smell was my *only* symptom. (Though I would describe it more as vinegar than fish). It cleared up with the over-the-counter yeast infection stuff.

Note that mine also lasted months and months because since "yeast infections don't smell", I assumed that wasn't the problem and didn't get it checked out. Could it be that yeast infections only smell when they go too long undiagnosed? Or that people just vary in their symptoms?

And yes, there are other medical possibilities as others have noted and she should get it checked out by a doctor. Note that 'good' hygiene can actually contribute to yeast infections. According the the pamphlets my doc gave me, don't was that area with soap or douche. Just rinse it off.
posted by duck at 6:52 AM on August 29, 2005

Definitely sounds like BV to me. One thing to note: both bacteria and yeast are present in the vagina at all times and the bacteria and yeast keep each other in check. Infections happen when one or other gets out of balance. For this reason, it's important to figure out whether this is a yeast issue or a bacterial issue, because if you treat it for yeast when it's actually bacterial, you can make the bacterial problem worse.

Also: ejaculate enhances fishy smells. If you're not already, try using condoms for a while and see if that affects things. You may be just be smelling, well, yourself.
posted by arielmeadow at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2005

I would have her go to her ob/gyn to get checked, and maybe go to another one just for a second opinion. Often vaginal odor stems from BV, which others have mentioned.

If she gets a clear diagnosis from the doc, she could try a product called Rephresh - it's a vaginal gel meant to balance the PH in the vagina, as unbalanced vaginal PH can cause odor.
posted by geeky at 11:35 AM on August 29, 2005

If she gets a clear diagnosis from the doc, she could try a product called Rephresh - it's a vaginal gel meant to balance the PH in the vagina, as unbalanced vaginal PH can cause odor.

Sorry, but this stuff sets off my BS-detector. Vaginas just don't need that much help being "balanced" on a daily basis.

She very likely just needs a course of metronidazole or clindamycin. Not advocating rampant antibiotic use for no good reason, but...this is really commonplace and not difficult to treat. If you can't get to a gyn, can she speak to just a regular doctor or go to a womens' clinic? While official fact sheets will point out that one should go to a doctor for a lab confirmation of the diagnosis and to rule out STDs, it's also worth noting that the "fishy" odor, particularly without thick discharge or pain, is a major component of the diagnosis.
posted by desuetude at 5:12 PM on August 29, 2005

One tip: if she does have a bacterial infection and has to take antibiotics, she should also get some acidophilus in her system. Health food stores carry them (often in the refrigerated section) or she can get acidophilus milk or yogurt. Antibiotics often cause yeast infections because they kill all the bacteria that keep the yeast in check.

Wait... make that two tips: Antibiotics reduce the efficacy of birth control pills/hormones. So if she's on the pill (although maybe not, given that you just said it's hard to find a decent gyno) in addition to getting some acidophilus with her antibiotics, she might want to pick up some condoms.
posted by stefanie at 8:22 PM on August 29, 2005

A little more info about BV- it's not sexually transmitted, and you can get it from pretty much anything- a girlfriend of mine got it from trying out a different brand of tampons!

New studies are beginning to show that in fact BV CAN be spread thru sexual contact, so it could very well be that. BV does tend to stink. So do yeast infections. So does trichomonaiasis.

Rephresh is used by doctors I know to help treat BV. Taking oral acidolphilus has not been proven in any way to affect yeast infections, good, bad or otherwise. (I can't find source, but am looking...my boss is one the of leading researchers in the world right now on BV so I've heard a lot of stuff from her, too).

The vagina and its normal discharge should not stink - she should really see a doctor.
posted by tristeza at 8:41 PM on August 29, 2005

I just read an article about this in "Ask Isadora" a column in a free city newspaper. I tried to find a link to it and came up with nothing. She did say that this is a condition that some people have that is perfectly healthy minus the emotional toll it takes. That said, I would get checked out first to rule out treatable conditions. Good luck!
posted by bodysurfer at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2005

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