When you change your tampon or go to the bathroom on your period, you kind of get up-close and personal with your period blood. That may have been when you noticed that your period blood has a specific and distinct scent.
“Menstrual blood contains blood and sloughing uterine lining tissue, thus it may smell differently than blood from a cut, for example,” Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG, a board-certified gynecologist in Westchester County, New York, said.
Some people who menstruate, in particular, describe their period blood as having a metallic-like scent — according to Dr. Dweck, this is likely because of the iron content in the blood. Dr. Dweck also adds that blood is a bacterial medium and may have a differing smell for that reason too.
Remember, though, it’s normal for the vagina to have a smell — and no, it’s not supposed to smell like perfume or a bouquet of flowers. According to Megan Zaander, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at Lake Oswega GYN, many people who menstruate will experience a more acidic scent, which has to do with the acidic pH of the vagina.
“The vagina is actually more of an acidic environment. So when people kind of pin it down, if it has more of an acidic smell, that’s actually normal,” Dr. Zaander added.
Some smells, however, are definitely concerning. Dr. Zaander explained she typically tells patients that it’s normal for the for the vulva and the vagina to have a scent, but it’s not necessarily normal for these body parts to have an odor.
For example, a foul, fishy odor could be a sign of a bacterial vaginosis infection (BV), Dr. Dweck explained. “This is not an STI but rather is caused by an imbalance of the typical bacteria in the vaginal biome. The normal pH in the vagina is acidic. BV can be caused by a disruptor to this pH. Disruptors could include antibiotics, hormone changes, and exposure to multiple sex partners.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, abnormal vaginal smells could be the sign of a forgotten tampon, too. Consider that cause for quick action, as wearing tampons for more than eight hours can increase your risk at developing toxic shock syndrome.
Dr. Dweck also added that other infections, such as yeast, can cause a sour type scent, while certain STIs could cause foul-smelling discharge. So, when in doubt regarding the scent of your vagina, reach out to a doctor for advice.