Everyone with a vagina knows that, by the end of the day, there will be a moist patch or a sticky patch or both in their underwear.
How much vaginal discharge there is and what it looks like can vary, but it’s unlikely that your undies are always going to be completely spotless before you take them off at bedtime.
Since you’re probably not chatting about discharge with your friends you might not be sure whether this is normal.
The team here at Bloody Marvellous are passionate about your education in the Feminine Hygiene Department and wanted to explain what exactly it is your vagina is telling you.
The majority of women (all ages) will have discharge in their underwear at the end of day. In fact it would be unusual if you don’t regularly have some vaginal secretions making their mark in your panties.
Discharge is most often a sign that your vagina is staying healthy. A bit like the saliva in your mouth—it should be there.
“Your discharge is a clue that your vagina is cleaning itself properly”
Your vagina is a delicate environment. It’s constantly working to stay lubricated, maintain its pH balance, and keep good vs. bad bacteria in check. Self-cleansing through discharge is one of the things your vagina does to achieve these goals. That discharge usually comes from the vagina itself and mucus made by your cervix, the low, narrow portion of your uterus.
Since discharge does such a great job of cleaning your vagina, you don’t need to do anything to help it out. That means no “special” products marketed towards making your vagina cleaner—things like douches can just upset your natural pH balance and promote irritation and infection.
Your discharge will usually fluctuate throughout the month—except if you’re on hormonal birth control containing oestrogen.
Normal vaginal discharge can change in consistency and color throughout your cycle. Here is why it can look wildly different at seemingly random times.
Let’s start with your period, which is when the shedding of your endometrial lining completely overtakes any normal discharge changes you’ll see. After that, you may experience a few “dry” days when you’re producing very little cervical mucus, but since your vagina is still lubricating and cleaning itself, you might still see some discharge—just less since there’s not as much cervical mucus in the mix.
Then, when one of your eggs starts preparing for ovulation, your oestrogen levels rise, and you may see an uptick in cervical mucus in your underwear. This can look white, yellow, or cloudy, and if you touch it, it’ll probably feel sticky. The closer you get to ovulation, the more your estrogen levels rise, and the thinner and slipperier this discharge will typically become. This is to allow sperm to travel more easily through your vagina and into your uterus.
Your body is getting ready to get pregnant. It may look like you spilled egg whites into your underwear, and that’s completely normal.
After ovulation, if you don’t get pregnant, your estrogen levels drop. Your discharge can get thicker and cloudier, and you may even have a few more “dry days.” If you notice a pinkish discharge right before your period, it’s nothing to panic about: It just means that your endometrial lining is starting to shed slowly and is a sign that your period is coming soon.
Then, you get your period, and the cycle begins again.
Taking hormonal birth control may impact your natural discharge rhythm, especially if you’re using a method with estrogen this is because estrogen in birth control suppresses ovulation, it’s unlikely you’ll see any major discharge changes during the month.
There are various types of discharge changes that signal your vagina is not happy.
You know what’s normal for you, and any major, lasting changes in your discharge should be discussed with your doctor, even if they don’t worry you.
Here is a guide to the types of discharge that you should be looking out for, as they probably mean your vaginal is feeling poorly.
Yellow or green smelly discharge:
This indicates that your body is trying to fight an infection. Possible culprits include sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea, chlamdydia, and trichomoniasis, a lesser-known STI caused by a parasite. Bacterial vaginosis, which happens when “bad” bacteria in your vagina (anaerobes) outnumber “good” bacteria there (lactobacilli), may also be the cause.
These infections typically also cause a foul-smelling vaginal odor, another sign you should ask your doctor for evaluation.
An uptick in gray or white discharge:
While yellow or green discharge is a sure sign something’s up, that doesn’t mean lighter discharge is always A-OK. All of the above infections can cause an uptick in gray or white discharge as well. This is why it’s important to tell your doctor if you’re seeing a lot more of the stuff, even if the color doesn’t immediately seem off.
Cottage cheese-like discharge:
Having itchiness or burning with discharge that resembles cottage cheese can mean you have a yeast infection. But if you keep self-treating what seems like a yeast infection and it always comes back, see your doctor. You may have recurrent yeast infections (meaning you get four or more a year) that require longer treatment, or your “yeast infection” may be something else entirely, like chlamydia or gonorrhea.
Bloody discharge not related to your period:
If you’re seeing pink, red, or brown discharge at any point in your cycle other than during your period or just before it, you should call your doctor.
You could just be spotting unexpectedly due to something like a change in your birth control or cervical polyps (non-cancerous growths on your cervix). However, in rare cases, bloody discharge can be a sign of cervical cancer.
Bottom line: Discharge collecting in your underwear throughout the day is completely healthy, but if yours looks different in a way that worries you, talk to your doctor.
BM says: When there’s a change in your normal, go get it checked.
Article by Karin Miller from SELF