Fitness + Well-being

STI signs: How to know if you're normal down there

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It's something all girls get, yet most don’t really like to talk about it.

Vaginal discharge is not the most glamorous of topics, but it is an important one.

Many women are uninformed when it comes to what should be going on down there.

Knowing how much discharge is normal, what colour it should be and what it should smell like can actually help you spot some serious health problems, including STIs.

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A simple Google search starting with “should my discharge”, brings up suggestions like “smell," “be yellow” and “be white."

But what is healthy and what’s not, and when should you start worrying?

Here, two experts share everything you need to know about what’s going on in your underwear.

What is discharge?
Discharge is essentially a form of mucus that is produced from the cervix, the opening of the womb.

Discharge is a completely normal part of female life — in fact, it's the vagina’s way of keeping itself clean and healthy.

Natika Halil, chief executive of sexual health charity FPA, said as a result, there is no need to use cleaning products, soaps and shampoos between your legs.

“There’s no need to try and clean inside the vagina to get rid of discharge; the vagina is really good at cleaning itself,” she told The Sun Online.

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“Using perfumed products particularly can do more harm than good.

“The best way to wash this part of the body is to use plain, unperfumed soap and water to clean the vulva.”

How much discharge is normal, and what consistency should it be?
The amount of vaginal discharge produced can vary from woman to woman.

It also changes regularly based on where a woman is at in her menstrual cycle.

Some women have a thicker discharge right before they get their period, while others may notice a watery discharge when they are ovulating.

It is important to work out what is normal for you and see a doctor if you see any major changes.

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Dr. Virginia Beckett, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “The amount of vaginal discharge varies throughout a women’s menstrual cycle, and most pregnant women will get a pregnancy discharge.

“Healthy discharge doesn’t have a strong smell or color, but women may feel an uncomfortable wetness.”

What color should discharge be?
Healthy discharge should be white, milky or clear.

And if all is healthy downstairs, there should be no sign of an unpleasant smell or any itching.

Any changes in color or may indicate a vaginal infection.

Similarly, any changes in amount, consistency or smell could also indicate there’s a problem, which is why it’s important to know what’s normal for your body.

So how can you tell if something is wrong?
If you’ve noticed your discharge has changed color and consistency, or has developed a bad smell, you should see a doctor.

It may just be that you have a mild infection, but it could also be a sign you have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Beckett said: “Any sudden change in a woman’s discharge may indicate a vaginal infection.

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“The warning signs of infection include a change in color or consistency, a sudden bad smell, an unusually large amount of discharge, itching outside the vagina, pain in the pelvis or tummy, or unexpected bleeding from the vagina.

“If a woman isn’t sure whether her discharge is normal, she should visit her GP, practice nurse or pharmacist."

Here's what abnormal discharge may signal:

White, lumpy discharge
If you spot discharge that resembles cottage cheese, it’s a sign that you have thrush.

Thrush is a common yeast infection that affects men and women.

It is harmless but can be recurring, according the the NHS.

Women with thrush will have a white, cottage-cheese-like discharge that doesn’t smell, as well as itching and irritation around the vagina and sometimes a soreness or stinging when they use the restroom.

Beckett said: “Vaginal thrush is a common yeast infection that affects most women at some point in their lives.

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“It may be unpleasant and uncomfortable, but can usually be treated with medication available from pharmacies or on prescription from GPs.

“However, for some women, vaginal thrush can be difficult to treat and keeps coming back.”

Yellow or green discharge 
If your discharge turns a yellow green color, it could mean you have gonorrhea, Nitika warned.

She also said to keep a look out for “thin and watery” discharge as that can also indicate you have the STI.

Gonorrhea is caused by bacteria called neisseria gonorrhoeae, or gonococcus.

It is easily passed between people through unprotected sex and sharing sex toys.

Typical signs include a thick green or yellow discharge, pain while peeing, and bleeding between periods.

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It is easily treated with antibiotics but is not without risks.

Treated early, it is unlikely to lead to complications, but without treatment, it can spread to other parts of the body and cause harm.

In women, gonorrhea can spread to the reproductive organs and cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which can lead to long-term pelvic pain and even infertility.

In pregnant women, gonorrhea also increases the risk of miscarriage, premature birth and the baby being born with conjunctivitis which can lead to vision damage.

So, it is important to get tested straight away if you notice this change in your discharge.

White or gray discharge
If your discharge is a grayish color, this may indicate one of the most common causes of changes in a woman’s discharge.

A white/grey colored discharge is a common sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV).

It occurs when the bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted.

It doesn’t usually come with itching or pain, but can create a strong fishy smell.

Nikita said: “One in three women will get it at some time.

“It’s not a sexually transmitted infection but can develop after you have had sex.

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“Around half of women with BV won’t notice any signs and symptoms.

“Others might notice a change in their usual vaginal discharge which may increase, become thin and watery, change to a white/grey colour or develop a strong, fishy smell, especially after sex.”

How often should you have an STI test?
With all this in mind, the experts recommend it is important to take good care of your sexual health.

It is important to get tested if you have had unprotected sex and multiple sexual partners since you were last tested, they told The Sun Online.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to worry if you are in a relationship — you should still make regular trips to the clinic to get tested.

Nikita said: “We encourage people to get tested for sexually transmitted infections regularly as part of a normal healthy lifestyle.

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“There are a number of different services you can use to get tested for free, including sexual health clinics, genitourinary medicine clinics and your GP.

“Many clinics now also offer free postal testing services for STIs such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea.”

First published on The Sun