Your vaginal discharge can say a lot about your health, believe it or not. Vaginal discharge is normal and usually starts around the time a menstruating woman gets her first period. But there are some things you should take note of when it comes to what goes on down there.
A Cape Town woman (26) tells Health For Mzansi that she knew something was wrong when she noticed irregular vaginal discharge before her monthly cycle.
A watery discharge, coupled with an unpleasant odour and spotting prompted anonymous to visit a doctor. “It was explained to me that the discharge was caused by a sexually transmitted infection, and I was prescribed medicine,” she says. “Since then, I’ve made it a point to use a protection and take good care of myself.”
Care begins with hygiene
Johannesburg teacher and artist Tashia Jones-Gcoka, says that all it takes is warm water to maintain good vaginal health. “I wash my vagina with regular warm water, and I use Gynaeguard once throughout my monthly periods and a few days afterwards. It has been working incredibly well for me,” Gcoka says.
Meanwhile a reader who wants to remain nonymous adds that diet also plays an important role in keeping your vagina healthy. Her doctor advised that she eat plain yoghurt and drink cranberry juice once a week to aid reproductive health.
What should be considered normal?
According to Healthline discharge can start six months before your first period when the female body is going through hormonal changes.
Dr Mthembeni Tebelele from Gqeberha adds that vaginal discharge is a constant prevalence in women who menstruate.
Tebelele says that vaginal discharges vary in color, consistency, amount, and smell. “There are vaginal discharges that we should be very wary of ignoring: yellow or green discharge with a bad smell is a sign that you have a sexually transmitted infection,” says Tebelele.
Here is what different discharges can say about your health, according to Tebelele:
Clear: A clear or colourless discharge is part of normal vaginal life, ovulation or pregnancy.
Thick and creamy: White, creamy discharge is a yeast infection (candidiasis) indicator, he says. “A person with an off-white discharge may be more vulnerable to STIs, whereas a person with a snow-white discharge may simply have a yeast infection.”
Red: Red or pink discharge can follow menstruation or indicate underlying bleeding lesions like cancer or polyps.
Grey: Grey discharge with a fishy smell is quite common due to bacterial vaginosis. “[This] is caused by an over accumulation of bacteria normally found in the vagina but now favoured by pH imbalances,” explains Tebelele.
Should you also be experiencing vaginal dryness, you should seek medical advice. “It should be concerning to have a dry vagina, especially before menopause sets in, noting that there is a lot of activity in that tube, peeling and dying cells being cleaned and wiped out.”
“The bacteria called normal flora are always busy, and fluids and waste are pushed out, dampening the under-garments,” Tebelele adds.
What should it smell like?
But should vaginal discharge smell like roses? “No,” says Ridwana Jooma, a Johannesburg-based sex and relationship coach. Contrary to popular belief, your vagina is not supposed to be entirely odourless or taste like a ripe plum. It should smell and taste like a vagina, Jooma emphasises.
Jooma is the chairwoman of the Family Life Centre (Famsa) in Johannesburg, a non-profit organization specialising in counselling services for individuals, couples and families amongst others.
Issues with vaginal health begin with the simple things we tend to overlook, like underwear and pantyliners, she believes. “Naturally, I feel that a yoni [vagina] needs to breathe, that she wants fresh air, and we do not provide it for her [vagina],” Jooma says.
“All of these things that we don’t pay attention to are critical for women to understand their genitals and, as a result, to really connect to the core of who we are as women.”
“What we put on our mouths and the scented cosmetics that other women use are dangerous to our yonis. Pure warm water has been and will always be a natural way of cleaning our vulva, and by the way, our yonis are naturally self-cleansing.”