Is Your Fishy Vaginal Smell a Symptom of Something Else?

The vagina naturally produces scents that vary based on your menstrual cycle, hormones and personal vaginal flora. Some of these smells can be a little tangy, sour or fermented — just like the kind of smell you get from some fermented foods.

Your natural fishy smell vagina odor isn’t anything to worry about, says Christine O’Connor, MD, Director of Well Woman and Adolescent Care at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore. The vagina’s pH level is between 3.8 and 4.2 on the acid/base scale, which is normal and keeps unwanted viruses and bacteria out of your body.

When your natural odor changes or gets stronger, it may be a sign of a health issue that needs attention. If the odor is associated with other symptoms (like cloudy vaginal discharge, burning or itching) you should see a doctor.

If it’s accompanied by pain during sex, the fishy smell could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or another STI that requires treatment. BV is caused by an overgrowth of the bacteria Gardnerella and Bacteroides, which disrupts the balance of healthy vaginal bacteria.

Some women notice that a fishy smell develops after unprotected sex. This is because the semen can change the pH of your vaginal environment, allowing vaginal bacteria to produce chlorine-like odors, Amy Gersh, M.D., an OB-GYN at Orlando Health Center of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Florida tells SELF.

If you’re worried about your fishy vaginal odor, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your Moreland OB-GYN. They’ll perform a vaginal exam and take a sample of your discharge for testing, so you can identify the cause of the fishy smell and start appropriate treatment.