The truth is, your vagina is home to billions of bacteria. And the precise makeup of this bacteria changes on a daily — sometimes hourly — basis.

Change is normal. These smell variations are likely a result of your menstrual cycle, your hygiene habits, or just you being you.

Plus, considering the groin contains a collection of sweat glands, is it really a wonder that your vagina isn’t odorless?

Here is your medically accurate guide to vaginal odors.

Tangy or fermented

It’s very common for vaginas to produce a tangy or sour aroma. Some compare it to the smell of fermented foods. In fact, yogurt, sourdough bread, and even some sour beer contain the same type of good bacteria that dominate most healthy vaginas: Lactobacilli.

If it smells curiously similar to that sour IPA you had last weekend, don’t freak out.

Coppery like a penny

Many people report smelling a coppery, metallic vaginal odor. This is usually nothing to worry about. Rarely, it signifies a more serious problem.

Reasons for a coppery odor

  • Blood. Blood contains iron, which has a metallic smell. The most common reason for blood is menstruation. During your period, blood and tissue shed from your uterine lining and travel through your vaginal canal.
  • Sex. Light bleeding after sex can be common. This is usually due to vaginal dryness or vigorous sex that can cause small cuts or scrapes. To prevent this, try using lube.

Sweet like molasses

When we say sweet we don’t mean freshly baked cookies sweet. We mean robust and earthy. But don’t fret, a sweetish tinge is no cause for concern.

Every woman has her own body scent. The same applies to your vagina. It is completely normal to have some sort of intimate odor. If this odor becomes unpleasant this could be an indication of a vaginal infection. But how do you know if your vaginal odor is abnormal.

Normal vaginal smell

Every woman is unique and so is her vaginal odor. However, most women will notice a slightly acidic scent. This is due to the presence of lactic acid in the vagina.

When hormone levels change, vaginal odor can also change. The odor tends to be more intense during ovulation than on other days. Many women also notice changes in odor after sexual intercourse. This is because sperm temporarily raises the pH level of the vagina.

Normal vaginal odor is nothing to be embarrassed about, but it can leave you feeling uncomfortable. You can even feel a bit insecure wondering whether other people would notice it too. (If you think about it, have you ever noticed another female’s vaginal odor?)

Can an unpleasant vaginal odor indicate an illness?

One of the most common causes of vaginal odor is bacterial vaginosis, also known as BV. A strong, fish-like odor is one of the main symptoms of this vaginal infection, which is caused by an overgrowth of harmful/unwanted bacteria in your vagina. Another symptom of bacterial vaginosis is a thin, grayish white discharge. We have created a useful table that shows what every color and consistency of your discharge means.

Usually, this infection is fairly harmless and the symptoms will fade away spontaneously, although this may take some time. Treatment for BV is usually with antibiotics, prescribed by a doctor. This is an effective treatment for bacterial vaginosis but unfortunately can cause some unpleasant side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, as well as future resistance.