Vaginal discharge. It’s the thing no one wants to talk about but everyone is Googling. No, really: "Vaginal discharge" is searched more than 50,000 times per month worldwide according to Buzz Sumo, a keyword search engine. Everyone is wondering about this, so don't worry. You're not alone. I had a friend just the other day ask me if having regular discharge was normal. "I actually just cannot stay dry," she informed me. She's in her mid-twenties, yet she still wasn't sure what was (or was not) normal for her own body.
Isn't that all too relatable, though? We don't know what's normal because — shocker — we don't discuss it. It's not like you can just casually bring up your discharge discrepancies over a round of cocktails with your friends. But here's the thing: you should be able to. People with vaginas are made to feel self-conscious about everything and anything coming out of us other than glitter and unicorn feathers. The first thing to remember, though, is that discharge is perfectly normal. You're not broken, gross, or weird for seeing some goop sitting in your underwear when you go the bathroom. It's all part of having a vagina, folks.
Here's the skinny on what discharge actually is:
The first question is: What the heck is discharge, anyway? The vagina is self-cleaning and therefore rids itself of unwanted hoopla, Rebecca Brightman, an OBGYN at East Side Women's Associates, tells Allure. "Vaginal discharge is comprised of vaginal fluids, cervical mucous, and sloughed off vagina and cervical cells," she explains.
It may not be the most appealing topic to think about, but almost anyone with a vagina and reproductive organs can experience vaginal discharge. Why? Because, breaking it down, all discharge really is is just leftover cells. It literally comes with the territory. Most women in their reproductive years (that is, the start of your first period through menopause) will have discharge. And the amount of discharge you experience, Brightman says, is dictated by your menstrual cycle and varies from person to person.
This is how much discharge is "normal":
"Minimal discharge occurs after your period ends, and it increases and becomes very slippery and stretchy — the consistency of egg whites — around the time of ovulation," explains Brightman. "This is not just a coincidence. This type of mucous facilitates sperm transport and has a reproductive purpose." Joshua U. Klein, a doctor and the chief clinical officer at Extend Fertility tells Allure that patients who are on birth control pills may find a reduction in their vaginal discharge.
On to the juicy stuff, a.ka. consistency, color, and odor:
Vaginal discharge looks like regular mucus (like the kind from your nose). It can be stringy or a bit on the thick side, and is usually slippery. It's more or less the consistency of the sticky, clear hair gel the members of N*Sync used to slick back their hair in the early 2000s. Klein says that normal discharge's color is anywhere from a light grey to white, and that anything else could be considered abnormal.
This is what probably isn't "normal:"
If your discharge is yellow (or some other shade), you might have an infection. Another sign something might be wrong? Foul odors. By now, I think we all can acknowledge that vaginas have their own scent. You’ve been living with yours for quite some time and therefore are the expert on whether something strange is going on. So, if you smell something unpleasant or different than usual, it might be time to take action. "If a woman notices a fishy smelling discharge, which becomes even more pronounced after sex, she may have a bacterial infection referred to as BV (bacterial vaginosis)," says Brightman. If your discharge is the consistency of cottage cheese and you are experiencing vaginal and vulvar itching, it could be a yeast infection.
When to take action:
Not to scare you, but in addition to getting checked for BV or a yeast infection, you should always be screened for STDs if you're experiencing abnormal vaginal behavior. "If [you] notice bleeding after sex, a copious amount of watery discharge, a yellow discharge, or vulvar burning or sores, [you] must be evaluated for STDs," warns Brightman. "[You] should be screened for chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, and herpes."
Bottom line: If something funky is going on under the hood, don't ignore it. You should consult your OBGYN right away. Discharge itself is totally normal, but if you think it might be something more, don't mess around — it's better to be safe than sorry.