March 12, 2009

Q&A: Why Is There A Strong Odor During Sex?

Strong odors during sex - how to tell a partner that something smells off and what some smells might indicate about your genital health.

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Question: My girlfriend and I just recently started having sex. I’ve started noticing this pungent odor coming from her genitals during sex. How can I tell her what’s up, or should I even mention anything at all?

Although both women’s and men’s genitals may have particular smells associated with them, the odor is typically not foul-smelling to most people.

Bacterial Infections

In some cases, women may indeed have bacterial infections or bacterial imbalances that can cause a strong odor. The vaginal environment is quite sensitive and women can have vaginal infections that have nothing to do with sexually transmissible infections, or STIs, so this odor is not necessarily a sign of an STI.

Other times, strong genital odor can be a sign of a problem with a person’s sweat glands.

Discussing Genital Odor

It can be difficult to talk to a sexual partner about genital odor, particularly since many women and men are sensitive about how their sexual partners perceive their bodies. People generally want to feel attractive, desirable and sexy to their partner – and feeling as though they smell bad can make it hard for them to feel desirable.

As such, you’ll want to be as gentle and caring in this conversation as possible. One options is to let her know that there’s something you’d like to talk to her about, and that you feel uncomfortable saying it because you don’t want her to worry that you don’t find her attractive, desirable or sexy – because you do.

However, you could say that you’ve noticed a strong odor during sex and that you’re not sure if it’s coming from your body, her body or the combined smell of your two bodies. And that while it’s not a bad odor, it’s strong, and you wonder if you should both talk to a healthcare provider about it just in case it’s a sign of a health issue.

Not Just Her

Leaving it open in this way might help her to feel less criticized, or as if you are blaming her. It’s also a very real possibility that the smell is less about her body and more about the combination of your two bodies. Women and men both sometimes notice that their genitals smell different when their fluids get mixed together with a partner’s bodily vaginal fluids or ejaculate.

Further Reading

To learn more about vaginal health, check out The V Book: A Doctor’s Guide to Complete Vulvovaginal Health. For information about sex in general, since you’re both new to it, check out The Guide to Getting It On.