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A Lady’s Many Scents

I’ve heard you should bathe in a “cap full” of apple cider vinegar as an alternative for douching, which also improves vaginal smell. Is there any scientific evidence to support this? — asked by Just looking for the science

Short take

The scent of your vagina is primarily controlled by the colonies of healthy bacteria that populate the vagina. Vaginas should smell like, well, vaginas. There are medical conditions that could affect the smell, so it is important to distinguish between the smell of a healthy vagina, medical conditions and puerile or cruel comments about a healthy vagina.

[Have a question about women’s health? Ask Dr. Gunter yourself.]

Tell me more

Most of the factors that contribute to vaginal scent are controlled by populations of healthy bacteria. There are medical conditions that can change the bacteria and this can lead to an abnormal vaginal odor. The two most common conditions are bacterial vaginosis and trichomonas (a sexually transmitted infection, or S.T.I.). However, menopause (with its lowered levels of vaginal estrogen) can also produce a change that may be noticeable to some women.

It is not possible to change the scent of a vagina with external actions, such as eating certain foods or supplements, or bathing in water with a capful of apple cider vinegar. That’s because none of these things can change the populations of vaginal bacteria. Douching could theoretically have an effect, but it would be a negative one that would paradoxically increase vaginal odor by killing the healthy bacteria. Worse, because douching damages healthy bacteria, it will also increase your risk of contracting an S.T.I. if you are exposed.

Taste, too?

I’m often asked about the taste of a patient’s vagina. Taste is a combination of many factors, including scent, flavor, temperature and even touch. In the right situation and with the right partner the taste of a vagina is typically pleasing.

There is an urban myth that eating pineapple can change vaginal taste. This is not biologically possible. While pineapple does have aromatic compounds that give it that pineapple smell, even if these compounds survived digestion and metabolism, your urine and sweat would be smelling sweet and tropical long before your vagina did.

Take a moment to pause

Why do you feel you need to improve the scent of your vagina? This is a very important question. If you have perceived a change in odor, see your doctor. This should not be managed over the phone; it requires an in-person visit and a vaginal exam. If your partner has said something kind about a change, see your doctor. The people we love are attuned to our bodies and want us to be healthy. However, if a partner has been cruel or dismissive about your vagina then it is he (or she, but in my years of listening to women it is typically a he) who has the problem. If you enjoy oral sex and would like to encourage your partner to be more generous in that area, a conversation is the best place to start, not by buying pineapple or apple cider vinegar.

Dr. Jen Gunter, Twitter’s resident gynecologist, is teaming up with our editors to answer your questions about all things women’s health. From what’s normal for your anatomy, to healthy sex, to clearing up the truth behind strange wellness claims, Dr. Gunter, who also writes a column called, The Cycle, promises to handle your questions with respect, forthrightness and honesty.

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