By Katie Ellis, Period Pro from University of Louisville School of Medicine
Wait a second…. What is that in my underwear? Is something wrong with me???
Before you get too worried, let’s talk about what the clear-to-white-to-yellowish fluid that comes out of the vagina really is: discharge!
What is discharge?
Discharge is any fluid that exits the vagina. It can have different consistencies, different colors, and can change depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. It is normally a creamy consistency, but can be a bit more thin and slimy around ovulation or look crusty if it sits and dries in your underwear. Discharge can look clear, white, yellow, or even pink-ish if you are having discharge around the time you have your period. You can have more or less discharge at different times in your cycle month, and it can also look different at different times in your cycle. Discharge has a natural odor as well.
Overall, discharge is normal and healthy! It is a way the vagina cleans itself. The discharge is filled with fluid and cells and healthy bacteria. The vagina vagina makes and sheds discharge to keep itself healthy, lubricated, and free of infection and irritation.
What is normal?
Let me say it again, for EVERY person with a vagina: discharge is normal and healthy! It is important to pay attention to what your normal vaginal discharge looks like. Once you know what is normal for you, it will be easier to recognize when a change in your discharge is something that needs attention. If it changes color, changes consistency (meaning it becomes a lot thicker, clumpy, or watery), has a different, strong odor, or you start having way more discharge than you normally do, this can be a sign that you have an infection or problem. Along with the change in your discharge, your vulva may also show other signs of irritation such as itching, burning, or redness.
When do I need to talk with my doctor?
If your discharge looks and feels different than it normally does, you should talk with your doctor! There are a few different reasons why your discharge might change. One example is something called a yeast infection. This could make your discharge thick and clumpy–kind of like cottage cheese. If you have a yeast infection, your vulva can also be super itchy! Other infections like bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia can change your discharge, too. In that case, discharge could look green, gray, or bloody. It may have a frothy, foamy consistency or a more watery consistency. It could smell different and the smell would still be present, even after washing the vulva. Other than infection, another reason why your discharge might change could be irritation from something that your vulva or vagina comes in contact with. If you experience any of these changes to your discharge you should talk with your doctor.
How do I manage my discharge?
If you’re not used to it, discharge can seem strange–but it is important to remember that it is completely normal. You should NEVER put anything up your vagina to clean it. Remember, discharge is the vagina’s way of cleaning itself. It is self-cleaning! You can wash the parts of your vulva where hair grows with a normal soap. You can clean inside the labial folds and creases where any dried discharge or fluid gets stuck with just water. If your discharge gets onto your underwear, sending it through the wash should take care of that, no problem. It is also normal for discharge to stain your underwear. The pH of your discharge can react with the things used to dye the fabric in underwear and it can look bleached, but it doesn’t mean that it is still dirty after you wash it.
One more time, just so you never forget it: DISCHARGE IS NORMAL. Your body is a normal body doing normal bodily things!