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Why Does My Vagina Smell Like Cheese? An Expert Explains

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The vagina is a complex bit of bodily machinery. It's used for so much — it's a vehicle for pleasure, it opens up to give birth, it's the exit ramp for the crimson highway every month, and it can get irritated or infected if given the opportunity. The delicate microbiome that lives in your vagina really throws things out of whack when its upset, causing unusual smells and discharge. If you're wondering, "Why does my vagina smell like cheese?" you're likely already concerned about the flora in your lady flower.

According to the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the vagina is typically dominated by four main bacteria: Lactobacillus iners, L. crispatus, L. gasseri, or L. jensenii. When these are disrupted by either outside bacteria, or a build up of acid or alkaline properties in your vagina, problems arise. But your vagina's microbiome will shift throughout your life, and even more so with life events like pregnancy and menopause. These shifts are challenging on your body, and therefore make you more likely to experience "vaginal upset," which to me sounds terrible. I don't know about you, but I know that I only want the happiest of vaginas.

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I can understand how stressful it would be to notice such a startling smell from your downtown. No person wants to think their vagina smells at all, and certainly no one expects it to smell like cheddar. When you're considering why your vagina smells like cheese, you're probably pretty embarrassed, and that's OK. Just know that you're certainly not alone.

There are tons of forums online for just this question, but many seem to be populated by misinformation and a sense of shame. They cavalierly give recipes for homemade douche and essential oil therapies, but seldom are they backed with any real science, and that's troubling. If women are to move past the shame we feel over something that happens with some regularity to women, then being fed slop about the right lotion to take the smell away without treating the problem isn't going to help.

I asked registered nurse practitioner Amber Mechan of Tenafly, New Jersey about the real cause behind the distressing smell. She tells Romper, "It's likely not a big deal, even if it feels and smells gross to you. Really, the only smell that's truly scary is a rotten or dead smell, which is likely due to a necrosis or rotting tampon you've forgotten about." She adds that lots of women actively avoid treatment for easily treatable problems because they're ashamed to be seen for it, but that doctors and NPs are not going to be grossed out or shocked. "We wouldn't choose the fields we're in if we were shocked by what bodies do."

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Mechan says that the cheesy smell is most likely due to a trichomoniasis infection, commonly referred to as "trich," a common sexually transmitted disease, or bacterial vaginosis. "Over 3 million people are treated for trich each year and it's easy to catch, because often the person who transmits it is asymptomatic and ignorant of their infection." As for bacterial vaginosis, she says it's almost as common as yeast infections, and while some women will experience recurrent BV infections, they're usually easy to treat.

If you notice that your discharge is malodorous, it's important to be seen by your provider so that you can speed up your recovery and put that worry to rest. It is uncomfortable and not fun at all to go and strap into the stirrups, but sometimes, it's necessary. That way, you can get back to only worrying about cheese when it's at a wine tasting party — not between your legs.

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