Down There Care

Vaginitis & How To Deal With This Down-There Discomfort

By Gabi Powell Lindsey Lavoie, WHNP Jillian LoPiano, MD

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An itch that won’t quit. Intercourse that leaves you more than sore. A funky smell that might be a tell: Something’s not right. No sweat, Betties. Vaginitis is super common and super treatable when you understand how it can develop and what it can look, smell and feel like.

Vaginitis is an inflammation and irritation of the vagina that can cause itching, abnormal discharge, redness of the vagina and vulva, burning, pain during intercourse, and a noticeable discharge + odor, depending on what type of vaginitis you have.


Wait, there’s more than one kind?!

Yup, here are the three most-common types and how they differ in causes and symptoms:


bacterial VAGINOSIS (BV)

CAUSED BY: An overgrowth of harmful bacteria in the vagina. Douching, scented soaps/detergents, or multiple sexual partners are likely culprits in throwing off the normal balance of vaginal bacteria.
LOOKS LIKE: Thin + dark or dull gray discharge
SMELLS LIKE: Discharge will have a strong fishy odor. (Psst! This smell may be more noticeable during menstruation or post-intercourse.)
FEELS LIKE: Discharge odor is the main symptom of BV, but you may experience itching if there’s a lot of discharge.


CAUSED BY: An overgrowth of a type of yeast called Candida. This can happen when the normal balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina is disrupted, such as from taking antibiotics, having uncontrolled diabetes, or wearing tight-fitting clothing.
LOOKS LIKE: White + lumpy discharge (think: cottage cheese-like texture)
SMELLS LIKE: Your discharge will probably not have a distinct odor. In fact, some Betties don’t notice any changes in their discharge!
FEELS LIKE: itching or burning around the vagina, and pain during sex or urination.

CAUSED BY: Trich is an STI. Notify your partner and intercourse is off-limits until both partners have completed treatment.
LOOKS LIKE: Yellow-gray or green discharge
SMELLS LIKE: Discharge will have a fishy odor.
FEELS LIKE: Burning, irritation, redness, and swelling of the vulva. You might experience pain when going pee!


Betties, while this quick list of look-smell-feel symptoms can help alert you to vaginitis, be aware they can mimic the symptoms of an STI, especially gonorrhea and chlamydia. This is why hitting up your provider at the first sign of somethings-not-right is especially important.


If I’m experiencing symptoms, how will I know I *for sure* have vaginitis?

Your provider will diagnose vaginitis by taking a sample of your discharge from the vagina and looking at it under a microscope. In the meantime, make sure you hold off any possible irritants – douching, sex, spermicides, or vaginal medications.
Once you’re diagnosed with vaginitis, treatment will depend on the cause – it may be a pill, cream, or gel that is applied to the vagina.

PSA: Betties, the market is hot for over-the-counter + mail-order treatments to treat vaginitis. We strongly recommend you steer clear of these products and pursue care from a medical provider.

The itchy, burning, or smelly symptoms might have alerted you to vaginitis, but it’s important to finish your medication because the infection might still be kicking even if your symptoms disappear.


Okay, so once I’m healed up and in the clear, what can I do to prevent another round of vaginitis?

💦 Use plain ol’ water to wash your vaginal area. If you want, you can use Cetaphil or Dove Unscented on the external vulva.
🌸 Just say no to scented bath products, vaginal sprays, or douches. Remember, Betties: Our vaginas are self-cleaning machines and aren’t intended to smell like flowers!
🌊 Wash underwear in unscented laundry detergent – many brands offer a “sensitive” variety.
👙 Don’t wear wet clothing or bathing suits for extended periods of time.
🧖‍♀️ After showering, make sure you are completely dry before getting dressed.
🧻 Wipe front to back after using the bathroom.
💊 If you have a recurring case of vaginitis, you may want to consider swapping to cotton underwear and non-tight-fitting clothing + adding an acidophilus or lactobacillus probiotic supplement to ward off infection.

Betties, you’re not alone in experiencing a bout of down-there discomfort like vaginitis. And an infection can be your opportunity to become more body aware + adopt vaginal health practices.


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