Vaginal discharge

What is it?

Vaginal discharge is very common.  It may be white, clear, stretchy or sticky.  It may be there on some days and not on others.  Usually this discharge is normal.  You are the best person to know your body and monitor your health. Becoming aware of what is normal for you can help you know when something is wrong.  

The following is a brief overview of the different types of discharge you may experience. Some are normal, others are not. Having discharge is not synonymous with having a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Discharge can happen for a number of reasons and is not always a sign of a STI. Also, many STIs do not cause any changes in discharge.

Normal discharge

[These types of discharge can be considered “normal” for cis (non-trans) women and trans men. “Normal” discharge for trans women with vaginas will be slightly different. Even among cis women and trans men there is great variation in the amount, types, and timing of discharge. These can vary based on age, hormones, whether someone has had a hysterectomy, and many other factors.]

Cervical mucus

Throughout your menstrual cycle your cervix (the opening of the uterus) makes different types of discharge or mucous.  You may start to see this mucous after your period ends.  At first it is cloudy in colour and can be stretched between two fingers to about a quarter inch or less.  As you get closer to ovulation (when the egg comes out of your ovary and goes into your fallopian tube) the mucous may get clearer and can be stretched to more than inch.

These changes in mucous help sperm survive longer and assist them in travelling through the body to fertilize the egg.  This clear discharge is usually a sign of fertility—it lets you know there’s a good chance you could get pregnant.  After ovulation, this mucous tends to get thicker and dry up.

Sexual arousal fluid

When you are sexually excited your vagina makes a fluid that is cloudy or clear and feels wet.  This fluid makes penetration easier and more enjoyable.  It may also help prevent condoms from breaking. We all make different amounts of sexual arousal fluid. So, if you feel that you are not very moist you may want to be stimulated before more penetration and/or use a water-based lubricant.

Female ejaculate

Sometimes you may feel like you are going to urinate (pee) when you are having sex, or sometimes you may think you actually urinated.  Usually what this means is that you are about to, or already have, ejaculated.  Rarely is it urine. 

Inside your vagina there is a gland that makes ejaculate fluid.  Sometimes when you are sexually excited this fluid is secreted or sprayed out.  This secretion is very wet and may look like urine but is chemically different. 

Female ejaculate can happen with or without orgasm, and is generally very enjoyable. Not all women ejaculate, and that is perfectly normal.  There are different books and classes available if you want to learn how to ejaculate.

Abnormal discharge

Non-sexual causes

Your vagina is a self-cleaning, self-protecting organ.  There are different micro-organisms (e.g., bacteria and yeast) that naturally live there.  They work together in balance to protect you from infection.  Sometimes this balance can change causing abnormal discharge. You may smell different than you normally do and you may be itchy and red.

Causes of this imbalance include allergic reactions, your overall health and diet, as well as some medications. Antibiotics, for example, can kill the good bacteria in the vagina allowing yeast and unwanted bacteria to overgrow.

Often these imbalances involve a change to the pH of your vagina (how acidic it is). Hormonal changes, menstrual blood, sexual activity, douching, using soap or other chemical inside the body are all factors that can change the pH of your vagina.

A very common vaginal infection/imbalance is bacterial vaginosis (BV).  Symptoms, if present, include extra discharge and a different smell. While BV is not a sexually transmitted infection, sexual activity can bring it on because bacteria from other parts of your own body can enter your vagina, causing an imbalance. For more information, read about yeast and bacterial vaginosis.

Sexual causes

Unlike the organisms mentioned above that normally live in your body, there are others that do not belong in your body.  Sometimes, through sexual contact, these germs get inside of you, causing an infection.  Three common sexually transmitted infections are chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomonas.

Unprotected sexual intercourse is the most common way for transmission to occur.  A possible symptom of infection is an abnormal discharge that may be watery, thick and/or yellow.  You may notice abnormal vaginal bleeding, pain during penetration, or more frequent urination. 

It should be noted, however, that symptoms may take awhile to show up, and you may not have any symptoms at all.  For this reason, if you are sexually active, we suggest that you get tested for infections at least every year, even if you do not have symptoms.