Ever been to a strip club and wondered “hey, what’s that smell? Have you’ve ever walked into a room where sex was just had, or if you’re a connoisseur of the ol’ car sex, you know that there’s a distinct aroma that usually follows a sweaty session of bump and grind. Instead of putting you through the agony of me trying to find out what sex actually smells like, lets look to the experts to find out what causes that ever-so-sweet aroma that follows wild times. We break down the smell of sex down so if you’ve ever wondered “what does sex smell like”, then you’ve come to the right place.
Was it really good sex if neither of you broke a sweat? We’ll cover that another time, but for now lets focus on smells. Sweat. The sweet aroma of hard work and perseverance. When you’re romping, everything starts to sweat – your butt sweats, the back of your knees sweat, your armpits sweat – everything sweats. And while sweat itself is odorless bacteria in these different areas that feast on the sweat end up releasing some acidic compounds in the process.
Here’s the bad news. Since the smell of the sweaty area largely depends on the type of bacteria that’s hanging around, the fact that the extra-smelly bacteria love your genitals (hopefully they’re not the only ones) means that that area is much more likely to get a little aromatic during sex. That’s partly why sweat from your genital region, butt and armpits don’t smell like sweat from, say, your back.
But the composition of the sweat also plays a part. Depending on your diet and lifestyle, your sweaty areas might smell different. For example, this study looked at the difference in body odors of men who ate meat versus those who didn’t. Basically, they took seventeen men that were on “meat” or “non-meat” diets for two weeks wearing pads to collect body odor over the course of the study. Then, thirty women took the pads and rated them for pleasantness, attractiveness, masculinity and intensity. After a month, the men switched diets and the same procedure was repeated. Here’s what they found:
Overall, the odors of guys that were on the non-meat diet were judged as “significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense”.
A big contributor to butt and genital sweat is also the clothing that you wear. Most guys are walking around wearing non-breathable, sweatbox underwear. Imagine the smell when those hit the floor. Sheesh. Luckily, we’ve got you covered if you don’t want your partner to run screaming after your drawers come off. Underwear wick more moisture than cotton and improve ventilation, meaning heat doesn’t stay trapped in as much and you get a little less sweaty.
2. LATEX AND LUBE
Have you ever smelled a condom? It doesn’t smell very pleasant. Often made out of latex, condoms are used as a form of contraception and protection against sexually transmitted infections. But when you’re in the midst of it, the mixture of latex with bodily fluids and friction can cause a distinct tangy smell. If you also use lube, that can add to it too. In my opinion, the extra tang added by condoms to the smell of sex is a small sacrifice to pay for safer sex.
3. VAGINAL LIQUIDS
Unless you have your own reasons, chances are vaginal liquids don’t really see the light of day. Since you never really smell it, the aroma of a vagina is noticeable to passing noses while you’re doing the deed. But she’s also producing more of it to accommodate your knight in shining armor. Comprised of mainly mucus, protein as well as water and vaginal bacteria, vaginal fluid can have a distinct smell during sex.
The smell of vaginal fluid also depends on lifestyle and what stage of the menstrual cycle she’s at. Now don’t get me wrong, human genitals aren’t meant to smell like a damn lavender and rosemary candle, but particularly off-putting smells may be a sign that there’s something going on. Smell largely depends on the pH of the vagina, and all those factors we listed before influence the acidity of vaginal fluid. Interestingly, an unbalanced pH can also be caused by infections. To cap off this section, I wanna say that not all vaginas are created equal. Every vagina has its unique odor. Some even have no odor at all. Regardless, vaginal liquids can contribute to the smell of sex.
Don’t think you guys were off the hook. In fact, there are plenty of Google searches every month for the phrase “What does sperm smell like?” Just like how the vagina can add to the knockin’ boots aroma cocktail, your semen can also play a pretty big part. Aside from your hundred-million future kids, semen contains:
- Fructose: a sugar usually found in fruit
- Chemicals that help make sperm more mobile
All of this comes together to create a certain smell that I just can’t put my nose on. But semen does have a smell, and it’s (opposite of acidic). So when you have alkaline semen mixing with acidic vaginal liquid, you get…that smell. It’s unmistakable. When the fluids mix, they create a unique smell based on the pH of each individual person involved.
Essentially, the vagina smells, semen smells, and when they come together, they create a unique smell – the smell of sex.
5. UNIQUE SMELLS
Finally, you can’t forget about the smell of the people that are having the sex. If you’ve never noticed, people usually have distinct smells. Whether that’s because of their diet, cooking, lifestyle, cologne, perfume, car, dog, lotion and so on. When they come together and start going at it, their unique smells can also combine in the air and contribute to the sex smell we all know and love.
Some unique smells are, well, unique. Others can be come about from different hygiene practices. For example, you can’t get much cleaner down there if you use a bidet. Compared to standard toilet paper, a quick spray followed by a pat dry will leave you squeaky clean and get rid of any otherwise unpleasent smells.
Ultimately, the smell of sex is hard to pinpoint. It’s a beautiful cocktail made from sweat, latex and lube, vaginal liquid, semen and, well, people. Those individual smells are then influenced by diet and lifestyle. So while I may not be a poet or a scientist, like I said before, I now definitely know that the smell of sex is a unique combination of lots of things. And it’s kind of sweet, isn’t it?
What causes a fishy vaginal odor?
We’ve listed nine possible reasons for developing a fishy vaginal odor, each with its own unique set of symptoms and treatments. In some cases, you might be able to resolve the issue with simple at-home remedies. So what exactly causes a fishy vaginal odor?
1. Bacterial vaginosis
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is one of the main culprits behind a fishy vaginal odor. People who are at a fertile age sometimes experience it after intercourse, although it’s not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). BV is instead the result of a bacterial imbalance of vaginal flora (specifically, Gardnerella vaginalis and Bacteroides). Aside from a fishy vaginal odor, BV also produces itching and a thin white, grey, yellow, or green-colored discharge.
Although BV is relatively common, you should have it treated as soon as possible because it increases the likelihood of other genital infections and STIs. Research shows that BV during pregnancy increases the chances of preterm premature rupture of membranes, preterm delivery, and postpartum infections (e.g., chorioamnionitis and endometritis). Your health care provider will prescribe antibiotics to clear up BV and may suggest a topical solution to alleviate associated symptoms.
2. Trichomoniasis or other STIs
A fishy vaginal odor could potentially arise if you’ve contracted an STI like trichomoniasis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection, it affects 3.7 million people across the United States.
Also known as “trich,” it occurs when a protozoan parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis is transmitted during intercourse. Anyone can get it, and it presents symptoms such as genital itching and painful urination and intercourse. If you have trichomoniasis, you may detect a fishy vaginal odor, frothy yellow-green discharge, and vaginal soreness and swelling.
However, only 30 percent of people with trichomoniasis display any symptoms. That’s why it’s crucial to get regular STI screenings if you’re having sex with different partners. Please do not attempt to diagnose or treat trichomoniasis at home. If ignored, it can create serious complications like pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or preterm birth if you’re pregnant.
3. Pelvic inflammatory disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease is another possible explanation for a fishy vaginal odor. It’s essentially a vaginal infection that spreads upwards into your pelvis and reproductive organs, including your uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. An estimated 1 million cases are reported annually in the United States.
PID can carry long-term consequences, causing 1 in 10 women to become infertile. This is especially true for people with recurring episodes of PID. People with PID might notice a fishy vaginal odor during sex, along with bleeding triggered by intercourse. Consult your health care provider if you see any such symptoms.
4. Excessive sweating
Perspiration is the body’s way of cooling itself down when it’s overheating. Sweating while engaging in a vigorous activity is common, as is sweating due to stress or anxiety. A fishy vaginal odor could be the result of sweating in the pelvic area. In extreme instances, a sweat-induced fishy vaginal odor may point to a medical condition called trimethylaminuria, which you should discuss with a health care professional.
5. Unhealthy diet
If your natural pH levels are in balance, you are less likely to notice a fishy vaginal odor. Certain influences, like your diet, can positively or negatively affect this balance. Be sure to eat a nutritious diet full of vitamins and minerals to keep everything in tip-top shape.
6. Poor hygiene
If you notice a fishy vaginal odor with no discharge and/or itching, you may be able to solve the problem by practicing good hygiene. This includes:
- Wiping from front to back after peeing and pooping
- Urinating after intercourse
- Changing your underwear once a day (or more if you sweat a lot)
- Using unscented laundry detergent to wash your underwear
- Bathing/showering your entire body with a gentle cleanser
After discovering a fishy vaginal odor, it may be tempting to vigorously clean the inside of your vagina or try to mask the smell. But the truth is, these chemicals will alter your vaginal pH, which could make the situation worse and lead to an infection.
7. An old tampon
A foul, fishy vaginal odor could arise if you’ve left a tampon in for too long. Change your tampons and pads regularly, according to your menstrual flow. Choose a period product with the right amount of absorbancy for your flow that day. Tampons with a higher-than-necessary absorption can often lead to dryness.
Leaving a tampon in for too long can result in a slight chance of developing toxic shock syndrome. If you’ve left a tampon in for too long, try to carefully remove it as soon as possible. Seek medical attention if you can’t remove it or if you suddenly experience a high fever, vomiting, diarrhea, or sunburn-like rashes.
8. Menstrual cycle
Sometimes, a fishy vaginal odor crops up just before the start of your period, due to changing bacteria and acidity levels. During menstruation, the blood (which has an elevated pH) and uterine lining mix with vaginal microflora, subtly altering the smell. Because of this, you might also notice a fishy vaginal odor after your period. It’s nothing to worry about as long as it isn’t due to a forgotten tampon.
Lastly, hormonal shifts during menopause can also influence your scent and lead to dryness, potentially causing a fishy vaginal odor.
As long as a fishy vaginal odor is not accompanied by discharge, it’s possible to address the issue with a few at-home remedies.
You should only use douches if your health care provider specifically prescribes them and only when medically necessary. They tend to aggravate fishy vaginal odors and compromise your vagina’s natural self-cleaning ability.
If you have a fishy vaginal odor that won’t go away even after trying the techniques above, it’s time to see a health care professional. This is also true if the fishy vaginal odor comes with any itching, burning, or bleeding.
Still have questions about fishy vaginal odors? Never fear, because Flo is here to answer them all.
Does chlamydia create a fishy vaginal odor?
No, not usually. Chlamydia is a very common STI that sometimes goes undetected. Though it can result in a case of vaginitis, it generally remains odorless.
What does a fishy vaginal odor after sex mean?
A fishy vaginal odor after unprotected sex isn’t unusual as long as the smell is subtle and goes away after bathing.
Just be on the lookout for other symptoms like itching or burning brought on by the mixture of vaginal discharge and sperm. Furthermore, if the smell lingers or becomes stronger, it may point to BV or an STI.
Every healthy vagina possesses a unique and subtle smell, which ordinarily goes unnoticed by everyone but you.
However, if a fishy vaginal odor is accompanied by itching, burning, pain, or bleeding, seek medical assistance right away. Your health care provider will perform the necessary lab screenings to diagnose and treat a fishy vaginal odor.
As for preventing that fishy odor if you are currently dealing with BV? The best thing you can do is get proper treatment ASAP because the smell will go away along with the infection. And avoid the temptation to spray perfume anywhere remotely near your sexual organs. “It’s not going to cover the smell up, and [it may just] irritate your skin,” Bottom line here: Be gentle with your vagina and see a doctor if something’s up—fishy odor or otherwise.