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Let's Talk About Sex #6: Vaginal Discharge: What's Normal?

I have a vivid memory of my daughter coming home from high school one day telling me that she learned vaginal discharge was a sign of a sexually transmitted infection. A long conversation ensued in which we discussed STIs, vaginal discharge, and high school sex ed classes. I was frustrated and dismayed that students were being taught that all vaginal discharge is bad. Today's question brought back these feelings of frustration.

The answer is no, a gooey discharge during ovulation is probably not a yeast infection. The vagina naturally cleans itself by expelling vaginal fluids and this is perfectly normal. These fluids comes from the uterus, cervix, and vagina and carry dead cells and bacteria out of a woman's body. The consistency and appearance of these fluids varies from woman to woman (and also in the same woman day-to-day). Since there are some types of vaginal discharge that might indicate potential problems, it's good to be able to differentiate healthy and unhealthy vaginal discharge.

HEALTHY VAGINAL DISCHARGE: A healthy vaginal discharge is usually clear or white, doesn't have a strong odor, and may leave a yellow tint in your underwear when it's dry. The consistency and appearance of this discharge usually varies throughout the month, especially if you are not taking birth control pills or using any products that inhibit ovulation. It's very normal for the vagina to be fairly dry 1-3 days after menstruation with little vaginal discharge. But then the discharge usually becomes a little sticky for a couple of days. Again, this is very normal. It may then become a little creamy and thick but as ovulation nears it will become clear, abundant, and stretchy. Sometimes this is referred to as "egg white cervical mucus" because it looks just like the raw, white part of a chicken egg. This stretchy and slippery discharge can last 1-2 days and makes the vagina feel moist and lubricated. It also helps facilitate the meeting of the sperm and egg. I'm guessing that this student's question was referring to this "gooey" type of ovulation discharge, which is perfectly normal.

UNHEALTHY VAGINAL DISCHARGE: An unhealthy vaginal discharge is usually yellow, green, or gray and may have a cottage cheese texture or consistency. It can be frothy or foamy and may smell fishy or just different than a normal discharge. Most of the time it also leads to vaginal itching, swelling, burning, or pain. This type of discharge usually indicates some type of vaginal infection. This could be a yeast or bacterial vaginosis infection or an STI, such as trichomoniasis or gonorrhea.

It's also important to point out that several STIs are asymptomatic in women and may not lead to increased or changed vaginal discharge. The bottom line? Use condoms and protect yourself. If you experience any of the possible unhealthy types of vaginal discharge, check with a health care provider. Early treatment is key and very effective!

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