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Most of us know that the vulva is moist but there are a lot of fluids associated with it that we don’t understand: pink, lotiony, clumpy, pungent liquid. This episode of Sexplanations is meant to organize the most common possibilities and explain them.

Female Ejaculation: https://youtu.be/lzngn1ZPr4k

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Have you ever found fluid from your vagina that looks like lotion, or cherry skins, or snot, or wet toilet paper?

[intro]

The vagina, and most of the vulva around it, is a mucus membrane. So like the eyes and the nose, the moisture is there to keep dirt and germs from getting further into the body.

That's your everyday, all day long, inside-of-the-nostril kind of vaginal fluid. What about everything else? Some infants expel fluid just after birth caused by exposure to their mother's estrogen. For the most part, though, fluid, also known as discharge, is most noticeable when the person starts puberty and their ovaries produce their own estrogen. At this time the whole vagina matures and produces more glycogen, a fuel for bacteria.

Bacteria, specifically lactobacillus, flourishes with this plentiful energy source and leaves behind a byproduct called lactic acid. In simpler terms, we grow up, and our bodies favor a bacteria that makes our vaginas more acidic so that we're better able to ward off germs. Our childhood vaginal pH of 6 to 9, which is more neutral, gets closer to a 4 after puberty, which is more acidic. So now the vulva smells more acidic, like vinegar.

Author of The Vagina Monologues Eve Ensler wrote, "My vagina doesn't need to be cleaned up. It smells good already. Don't try to decorate. Don't believe him when he tells you it smells like rose petals when it's supposed to smell like pussy." Pussy.

With the onset of puberty through to menopause, the reproductive system also tends to expel more fluid of a lot of different textures and colors. It's not the same for everyone, but here's a run-through:
  • Sweat. Exercising, heat, and tight clothing can make you perspire. That includes your crotch, especially if you shave.
  • Lubrication. If you get sexually excited, the vaginal walls and two glands in the vulva secrete clear, slippery fluid meant to reduce friction.
  • Brown blood. At the start of one's menstrual cycle, which we call day one because there's a visible blood marker, many people notice dark brown sludge or clumpy, rotten-cherry-skin kind of discharge. You may think it's feces. It's probably blood: older or thicker red blood which smells like iron.
Over the next few days your period will likely become more red as the endometrium sloughs off and out your body, then goes back to a minimal, clear moisture. After menstruation, the vulva and vagina will be pretty dry. Not cheek dry, eyeball dry. Then a couple days after this, the cervix at the top of the vagina expels mucus that is more cloudy, white, even yellowish in color. It's creamy and kind of sticky.

Next is a watery stage, colorless to slightly white discharge, unless there's some spotting of blood, in which case the fluid will look pink. And then there's ovulation, where there's 30 times more fluid than there was right after menstruation. On average, ovulation occurs on day 14, 10-16 days after the first sign of blood. The fluid from the cervix becomes clear and more elastic. You can put it between your two fingers and stretch it like raw egg whites. Fertility specialists call it EWCM – egg white cervical mucus – for this reason, and they see it as the crown jewel of fertility. The high spinnbarkeit, or spinnability, and higher pH make it like protective liquid ladders that sperm can use to get closer to the egg. After this, the vaginal fluid goes back to being goopy and opaque white.

I can't stress enough how valuable it is to track our fluids. So much of what comes out of the vagina is related to our cycles, and if we can follow a pattern, it's less scary to see things that look like snot goobers or watery toilet paper clumps.

It also makes it a lot easier to recognize when something's off. For example, yeast infections caused by overgrown fungus candida albicans are thick, creamy, and white. They're also really common. If you know from monitoring your body that there's more fluid, or it's more curdled, that's a good indication that it's not typical discharge. Other signs of yeast infections that can clue you in are itchiness and pain. They also smell a lot like bread, which I guess isn't that terrible.

Another common discharge to watch out for is bacterial vaginosis, or BV. It'll have a similar consistency as other fluids I've described, but it smells like fish or porta-potty and you might want to address it. Both yeast and BV are the result of natural microorganisms in the vagina over-flourishing. It doesn't mean that you're dirty or bad or gross, it just means that something threw off your balance and your system might need help resetting. Or not! Talk to a healthcare professional for next steps. They can check to see if the infection is something sexually transmitted.

Here are some of the STIs it could be: Human Papilloma Virus can make it seem like you just have more than usual normal fluid. Syphilis: same thing. And herpes: more of the usual unless it's a severe outbreak, in which case the area can be really raw, damp, and smell like a fresh wound. Gonorrhea may present as yellowish or bloody. Chlamydia: also bloody and heavy. Trichomoniasis, or Trich, is often frothy or bubbly with a greenish yellow or gray appearance and pungent tuna smell. This may be upsetting to imagine, or even get a whiff of on your own body, but it's so valuable. It's one way of knowing something is wrong.

Most of the time sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic, meaning there aren't signs, and people go years with chlamydia or herpes inside them not knowing it and passing it onto others. The only way to know for sure what you do and don't have is to get tested. Healthcare professionals, like my friend Carrie, who helped review this for accuracy, can test you and offer a lot of guidance. They can assess what's going on and why.

Hygiene, hormones, diet, sexual activity, contraception, medications, pregnancy, menopause, stress, life, and overall health can alter what comes out of you. My hope is that you embrace that the vagina's neighborhood is ever-changing, that it's fluid, and that you make informed decisions to take care of yourself. Here are four final notes on the subject which might also help:

1. Artificial Fluid. Lots of companies manufacture artificial lube, similar to the real thing, so people can apply it at will. This is great for surgically constructed vaginas that don't have the glandular makeup to produce a lot of these fluids on their own. It's also good for perimenopause and menopause when people experience more dryness. A recommendation to everyone else: try to work with your physiology before supplementing with something bottled. You may need 45 minutes to get wet, fantasies, and masturbation. This is okay! It's awesome!

2. Semen. If someone ejaculates semen inside you without a condom, the semen can leak out and may seem like a weird vaginal fluid. It's not: it's semen.

3. Feces. Occasionally I'll wipe, front to back, and when I check the toilet paper to make sure my fluids look and smell healthy there's a brown squirt, a little poop. I have to remind myself that the vulva is really close to the anus and that this is fecal matter, not some alien seed shrapnel.

4. Squirting. I didn't forget about so-called female ejaculation or squirting. We've done an episode on it which I'll link to in the description, and I'm working on a project for a future episode to collect this fluid and figure out exactly what it is and where it comes from.

So stay curious.

This episode was made possible by fans of Sexplanations I fondly called Sexplanauts. They're the ones who support us financially so sex education can be free and accessible worldwide. Thank you, Sexplanauts! If you want to be like them please visit patreon.com/sexplanations. Just remember: if funding us isn't an option for you, there are many ways to help and I appreciate them all.