“Am I normal down there?” is one of the most common questions asked of gynecologists. The short answer: “Yes, you are.”
A woman’s genitalia, made up of the internal vagina (or birth canal) and external vulva, are as unique as her own DNA. It’s not unusual to see significant variations in color, shape, hair and smell — from woman to woman. And unlike with men, a female’s sexual organs are trickier to see, so comparative curiosities and self-analysis might leave you questioning what is or isn’t typical.
Lumps and Bumps
Just as with the skin on your stomach or legs, your labia and vagina are vulnerable to rashes, breakouts and bumps. Common irritations such as ingrown hairs, pimples and eczema can appear simply as the result of wearing too-tight clothes, laundry detergent or sweating while exercising. However, some skin lesions are signs of bigger issues and should be seen by a doctor. Blisters that itch and burn or clusters of newly formed bumps may indicate an STD, while a pea-sized lump could be a cyst.
Your vagina is a complex organ with glands that deliver fluid to keep you clean or in response to sexual arousal. Ordinary discharge is usually white or translucent but can vary in color and consistency throughout your cycle. It generally will not cause itching or burning. If it does, seek medical care to see if you’re dealing with a yeast infection or an STD such as chlamydia.
Conversely, a lack of vaginal moisture or lubrication is not unusual. Although most commonly associated with the drop of estrogen after menopause, vaginal dryness can be caused by stress, medications, harsh soaps or chlorine. Topical lubricants can offer a short-term solution, but for hormonal-based issues, your doctor may suggest estrogen replacement.
Something Smells Fishy
All women have a natural vaginal scent that can change throughout the menstrual cycle. But there are other factors that can cause a shift in odor. Everyday issues such as sweat, menstrual discharge and certain foods can briefly generate new scents. But a fishy odor — often accompanied by a change in discharge or itching — could be the result of a bacterial infection, STD such as trichomoniasis or, in rare cases, cervical cancer. If this happens, it’s time to visit your doctor.
Let’s offer a longer answer to that question about normalcy: “Yes, you are. Until you are not.” And it’s up to you to know if your vaginal health is changing. Take time to become familiar with how your vagina and vulva appear and react. Then watch for changes that occur and the circumstances around them. Have regular gynecological checkups to determine a vaginal health baseline and to be screened for problems not visible to the naked eye.
Remember, normal does not mean being the same as everyone else. Normal is particular to you. By learning more about your own body, you’ll be able to catch any changes early on.
Choose to Stay in Touch
Sign up to receive the latest health news and trends, wellness & prevention tips, and much more from Orlando Health.Sign Up