One of the cool things about writing for (and I would think, reading on) a women's lifestyle site is you feel comfortable tackling all of the topics that directly affect us. And when it comes to today’s issue, let’s not act like we all haven’t had moments when we’ve caught a whiff of our own vagina and thought to ourselves, “OK. What’s really going on?”
If you’re currently noticing an aroma that seems a little “off,” before you go into semi-panic mode — or worse, you try and mask it with perfumed washes that typically do more harm than good — check out some of the most common vagina smells — then compare and contrast. That way, you’ll have a good idea of what’s actually going on and what you need to do to get everything…handled.
1. If Your Vagina Smells Like a Penny…
Do you have times when your vagina gives off a scent that is similar to a copper penny? If so, more times than not, it’s no big deal. This is usually an indication of iron being present which makes perfect sense when you’re on your period or if a night of some semi-wild (albeit consensual) sex led to a bit of breakthrough bleeding. In fact, as far as sex goes, if you’re engaging in unprotected copulation, sometimes your partner’s semen can throw off your vagina’s pH balance which also can result in a metallic-like smell. The main thing to keep in mind with this one is it shouldn’t happen, non-stop, all of the time. If it is, see your doctor, just to make sure it’s all good. Better to be on the safer side whenever blood scents are lingering around.
2. If Your Vagina Smells Like Sourdough Bread…
So, what if your vagina smells a lot like sourdough bread? If you’ve never had that before, the best way to describe it is…kinda on the “ferment-y” side. Usually what this indicates is that the good bacteria that’s in your vagina is working overtime to keep that space acidic. At the end of the day, this is a good thing because good bacteria help to prevent bad bacteria from overtaking your vagina and ultimately causing an infection. I’ve personally noticed this smell when I’ve had a lot of kefir or gone a week straight taking a strong probiotic. Anyway, if this is what’s going on, you’re pretty much all good.
3. If Your Vagina Smells Like Ammonia…
Wanna know an underrated sign that you could be dehydrated? If your vagina has a strong ammonia-like scent, that’s a potential giveaway. The reason why is because sometimes, urine can store up in our underwear or on our vulva and if it’s strong, it could be due to not getting enough water. Another thing that can trigger this smell is bacterial vaginosis (BV). So, if you’re noticing this one and your discharge is grey, yellow or green, super thin, and/or you’ve got vaginal irritation, while you can test for BV at home, you’ll probably need a prescription to treat it. In other words, see your doctor.
4. If Your Vagina Smells Like Molasses…
This one is a little iffy. What I mean by that is, while some of the bacteria in your vagina can smell a little on the sweet side, if there is an overgrowth of yeast going on in there, that can result in your genitalia smelling somewhat like molasses too. So, if you notice that along with the scent, you’ve got a thicker discharge, vaginal itching, and/or a swollen vulva, that sounds a lot like a yeast infection is brewing. I wouldn’t ignore that if I were you. More times than not, those bad boys only get worse over time.
5. If Your Vagina Smells Like a Swimming Pool…
So, what if your va-jay-jay smells a lot like the chlorine that’s in a swimming pool? Usually, this isn’t that big of a deal either; especially if you’re noticing it right after you have sex. Sometimes, the pH balance of our vaginas is disrupted by the chemicals that are in the lubricants and condoms that we use. Anyway, if the smell bothers you too much, try going with a natural or unscented lubricant and/or switch up your condom brands to see if that helps. Either way, the scent usually passes in a couple of hours. All good.
6. If Your Vagina Smells Like Cheese…
If your vagina smells similar to your favorite cheese, there isn’t really a clear-cut reason for it. On one hand, it could be nothing. On another, it could be a sign of BV or the STD trichomoniasis (more on that in a sec). So, what should you do? In this case, don’t just pay attention to the scent but the discharge as well. As far as healthy discharge goes, it’s on the thinner side (a milky-like texture), the color is usually white or off-white, it doesn’t have a strong smell and it is non-irritating. This means that if your vagina smells like a cheese plate and your discharge doesn’t look the way I just said, please get checked out.
7. If Your Vagina Smells Like Fish…
Out of all of the scents that I’ve talked about, probably the most common one (that’s openly discussed) is a vagina that smells like fish. First up, no, “she” is not supposed to normally smell like that. Well, let me back up — fresh fish has a very mild aroma to it; it’s fish that’s been laying out and is decomposing that’s highly problematic. If “Door B” is what you’ve got going on, don’t Elmo shrug it off because usually it’s a telltale sign that you’ve got an overgrowth of anaerobic organisms going on (which is another sign of BV) or you could have trichomoniasis.
What are some other indications of the latter? Frothy discharge. The constant need to urinate. Discomfort (like a burning sensation) when urinating. Itchy and swollenness in your vulva. Although trichomoniasis is easily curable with the help of antibiotics, please don’t be out here trying to handle it on your own. You need your healthcare provider to give a proper diagnosis, followed by a prescription. In other words, Googling at-home treatments ain’t gonna cut it.
8. If Your Vagina Smells Like Musk…
Although every vagina is unique (check out “Did You Know That There Are 10 Different Kinds Of Vaginas? Yep.”), if there’s one scent that is kind of “universal” when it comes to what a healthy vagina should smell like, words like “slightly musky” and “earthy” fit the bill. For the record, your vagina should never smell overpowering and oftentimes, based on where you are in your cycle, the scents can shift a bit. Still, if musky is what you are leaning towards most of the time, you’re pretty fine. Carry on.
9. If Your Vagina Smells Like Weed…
Ever had your vagina smell like weed before? If so, you’re not making it all up in your head. Something that your genital region is full of is apocrine sweat glands that happen to release fluid that has a milky-like substance. When it mixes in with the bacteria that is inside of your vagina, that can result in a scent that is reminiscent of cannabis. The more you know, chile.
10. If Your Vagina Smells Like Death…
Something that sometimes happens on the day that follows the last day of my period is there is irritation at the opening of my vagina. If I check to see if there’s a scent, it can smell a lot like death (no joke). A hack that has helped to avoid irritability is I wear my menstrual cup on that day too. Good thing because, I’ve discovered that the “WTF is that smell?!” smell is what can happen when bacteria, uterine tissue, and blood all mix together (or if you forgot to take a tampon out). Thankfully, it’s nothing to worry about — so long as it doesn’t go too long past your cycle. If it does, you already know what I’m about to say, right? Where’s your physician at? Exactly.
There you go. 10 common vagina scents, what they basically mean, and what you should do about them. Hopefully, this all has helped to put your mind at ease and also brought clarity to the fact that a healthy vagina isn’t supposed to smell like a bed of roses, scents change from time to time and, more times than not, you — and your vagina — are gonna be just fine.
Featured image by Getty Images
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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This 5-Minute Workout Can Help You Build Muscle Strength & Endurance
EMOM is short for "every minute on the minute." This form of exercise is quick and efficient; it will get your heart rate elevated fast while simultaneously building muscle strength and endurance. To start an EMOM, you select an exercise and choose the allotted number of reps you'd like to perform within the minute. The goal is to finish as quickly as possible, with the correct form, so you can get a longer break between sets.
In the 5-minute EMOM below, you'll complete the designated number of reps for each exercise listed without a break in between, and once you're finished, you'll rest until the next minute begins. At the top of the next minute, you'll repeat all the exercises again and rest until the following minute beings. Your goal is to complete this cycle for a total of 5 times.
A friendly tip before you begin is to make sure you have at least 20 seconds of rest between each set. Also, note if you're finishing with more than 30 seconds on your time. If so, add two additional reps to each exercise. (i.e., 4-inchworms would become 6-inchworms, etc.)
The goal of an EMOM is to challenge yourself and work towards simultaneously developing cardiovascular endurance, as well as muscle strength and endurance.
Exercise 1: Inchworms
Try to have at least 20 seconds of rest between sets and if you're getting more than 30 seconds of rest add more reps equally by twos to each exercise.
Repeat this EMOM 5 times for a focused warm-up, workout finisher, or when you're low on time and simply need to get your body moving.
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