What are the common types of vaginal discharge?
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All people with a vagina have vaginal discharge (fluid or semi-solid substance that flows out of the vaginal opening). It’s a way the body maintains a healthy vagina. In fact, vaginal discharge is part of the vagina’s inbuilt self-cleaning system. Clever, huh?

For some reason, there’s a lot of stigma and embarrassment around vaginal discharge, so one of the most important things to remember – like all things sex, bodies, and sexual health – is that there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. 

What is the cause of vaginal discharge?

“Bacteria that are normally found in the vagina create an acidic environment that makes it difficult for other bacteria to survive,” says Nurse Nettie, Play Safe NSW’s sexual health nurse (you can ask them anything). “The fluid, made by glands inside the vagina and cervix, helps to keep the vagina clean and reduce infections by carrying away dead cells and dead bacteria.”

That’s right…vaginal discharge is all about keeping the vagina clean and healthy. That means there’s no need to douche or use fancy vaginal-cleaning products. These can actually cause harm by messing with the natural pH balance of the vagina.

Vaginal discharge also has a role in sex and fertility. Sexual arousal signals the vagina to increase lubrication. During ovulation, when a person is most fertile, vaginal discharge also increases, becoming clear, and stretchy to support conception…

Is it normal to have discharge every day?

YES! The amount and consistency can vary though. Some people will have noticeable discharge every day and some might only notice it at certain times in their cycle…

What colour is healthy discharge?

Here’s a rundown on some of the different colours of discharge and what they can mean. 

  • White: Thick white discharge is common at the beginning and end of your period and is the most common type of discharge. It’s the body’s way of making sure everything is clean 
  • Clear and stretchy: Is like egg white and means that you’re ovulating and at a higher chance of pregnancy
  • Clear and watery: Occurs at different times through your cycle and can increase with exercise
  • Brown: May happen just after a period, and is old blood being “cleaned out” of your vagina
  • Spotting blood/Brown Discharge: This may occur during ovulation, just before your period starts, or during early pregnancy, at the time your period would normally come.

How much vaginal discharge is normal?

As we already know, vaginal discharge is the body’s pretty genius way of keeping the vagina clean. But how much discharge is actually normal? Like everything when it comes to the body, there’s no one size fits all answer. What’s normal for one person could be too much or too little for someone else. 

The amount and type of vaginal discharge varies among people and will change during their menstrual cycle. Changes in normal vaginal discharge can occur for many reasons, including ovulation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, stress, diet, medications like contraception, and sexual arousal.

Sometimes you might have a lot, sometimes a little less. It’s all about getting to know your body and knowing what is normal for you. If you notice a significant increase in discharge for no obvious reason–or you feel like you have a big change in vaginal discharge – it’s best to check in with your doctor, as it could be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or other infection like thrush.

When should discharge cause concern?

Vaginal discharge is a healthy and normal part of having a vagina and helps keep the vagina clean. The only time you’ll need to see a doctor is if you notice changes to your discharge.

A change in vaginal discharge (very different in colour, smell, consistency [thickness], or amount from what you’re used to), or the presence of vaginal discharge accompanied with irritation or other uncomfortable symptoms, may be a sign of infection.

Other symptoms could include:

  • Itchiness
  • Pain or bleeding during penetrative sex
  • Burning when you go for a pee
  • A strong, unpleasant odour
  • Cottage cheese-like texture

Remember, some infections that can change your discharge, like bacterial vaginosis (BV) and thrush can occur even if you’re not sexually active.  

BV (caused by an imbalance of normal vaginal bacteria) may cause an increase in thin watery grey/white vaginal discharge with a fishy smell. Thrush (overgrowth of yeast in the vagina) often causes a white cottage cheese-like discharge as well as itching, redness, and burning in the vaginal area.

Some STIs can also change vaginal discharge (don’t worry though, many STI treatments are quick and easy). If the vaginal discharge is different to what you’re used to, it’s worth seeing a doctor or nurse to get it checked out. Click here to find out where you can get an STI check in NSW. 

If you’re not sure and would just like some info, reassurance, or help finding a doctor in your area, ring 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:00pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.