There is a lot that goes on with your vagina. It's a veritable cornucopia of flora and activity that causes it to shift and change, making it feel, smell, and even taste differently. Sometimes, it's benign and sometimes it's more worrisome. Sometimes your vagina smells like iron or metal, or you worry that your discharge has an iron or metal scent. And luckily, it's not as strange as you think.
Your vagina is as changing as the seas, and it's completely normal to experience subtle shifts in aroma due to things like sexual intercourse, pregnancy, bacterial changes and flora growth, and where you're at in your menstrual cycle, according to Feminism and Psychology. And Evolution and Human Behavior noted that a lot of what constitutes the smell of your vagina is just a happenstance of your body chemistry. In other words, your yoni is as unique as you are, including its smell.
Why Your Vagina Smells Like Iron
Dr. Idries Abdur-Rahman, OB-GYN, tells Romper, “The vagina is a dynamic organ. It is filled with millions of bacteria and fungi, which themselves produce scents. Additionally, the vagina is a self-cleaning organ meaning it produces cleansing discharge which will also have a mild odor." And sometimes, this odor can smell like iron.
Abdur-Rahman says there are three primary reasons: blood, infection, or even semen. “Generally blood is associated with an iron-like smell. The blood can be fresh or old, but because of blood’s high iron content, any blood can cause a metallic or iron-like smell,” he says.
"The most common reason your vagina may have an iron-y or metallic odor is because of your period," DNP Dr. Carol Douglas tells Romper. "A few days leading up to it, during it, and a few days afterwards, it's completely normal to notice a metallic aroma. It's because there's a lot of iron in the blood, and that's a strong scent."
Douglas also says that it's not uncommon to have an iron smell after sexual intercourse because of all of the blood vessels full and near the surface in your vaginal canal. “Vaginal and cervical infections can cause a change in the normal vaginal scent, including a iron-like smell,” adds Abdur-Rahman. “Most infections are associated with atypical discharge which in itself can have an odor, but infections can also change the vaginal pH balance of the vagina, which can also lead to odors including an iron-like smell.”
But semen is “basic on the acid-base balance” and this can change the pH of your vagina, which can potentially change its scent, too, says Abdur-Rahman.
Iron Vaginal Smell & Pregnancy
What about an iron smell while you’re pregnant? Anything out of the norm “down there” typically causes a bit of alarm, especially for first-time moms. But Abdur-Rahman says, “Pregnant women usually produce more discharge, and just like pre-pregnancy discharge, pregnancy-related will also have a mild scent. An iron-like odor during pregnancy can be caused by the same things that cause such an odor prior to pregnancy, including infection or bleeding — old or new.
I know, the idea of bleeding during pregnancy is scary because it could be from your uterus or placenta. But don’t fret yet. "Because you often spot after sex when you're pregnant, the smell might be there, even if you don't notice any blood. But if there's a lot of blood, you need to call your OB or midwife," Douglas says.
At the end of your pregnancy, the smell may return as your cervical mucus plug detaches. The blood in the bloody show is also iron-rich and fragrant, and not all of it is removed with the mucus.
Why Noticing & Talking About Vaginal Odor Is Important
Not surprisingly, there have been several studies revolving around vaginal fragrance. It's not only an important diagnostic tool, but historically, especially in America, women are really concerned with having the ideal vagina. Feminism and Psychology added that women are hyper aware of the look and smell of their vagina because the idea of the perfect vagina has somehow embedded itself into the female subconscious, making the studies inescapable, regardless of the fact that there is no ideal vagina. Because, honestly, they're all pretty amazing.
Those studies do serve a greater purpose beyond soothing our collective subconscious though. By decoding the flora of the vagina, not only are doctors able to diagnose and treat conditions more effectively, they also serve to make women's health a priority, which it hasn't always been, historically speaking. The flora, or microbiome of the vagina, is multiform and intricate, and therefore given to peculiarities, such as a metallic aroma. When you're trying to decipher why your vagina smells like iron, it's easiest to ask an expert because there's so much conflicting information available.
Metallic odors don't feel like something that is normal and acceptable due to our association of metallic scents and blood, but if you think about it, that seems pretty normal for a vagina as it's their natural state a quarter of the time. If you think it's abnormal, you can call your doctor for peace of mind or possible treatment.
Dr. Idries Abdur-Rahman, OB-GYN, author of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Pregnancy But Were Too Embarrassed or Afraid To Ask, medical travel blogger, and one half of the Twin Doctors from TwinDoctorsTV.
DNP Dr. Carol Douglas of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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