Sexual Health Q&A

Female Sexual Health
What are vaginal fluids and what is their purpose?

From time to time, women may notice the secretion of vaginal fluids. Some fluids are perfectly normal, but others may be sign of infection.

Normal vaginal fluids

Vaginal discharge refers to a clear or white fluid produced by the uterus, cervix, or vagina. Most women experience some degree of vaginal discharge. The amount can vary from woman to woman. It can depend on a woman’s menstrual cycle, too.

Cervical fluid, sometimes called cervical mucus, is a type of vaginal discharge that changes in quantity and color at different points in a woman’s cycle. Produced by the cervix and regulated by the hormones estrogen and progesterone, this fluid nourishes sperm cells, protecting them as they travel through the vagina and cervix to fertilize an egg.

Cervical fluid can be cloudy or white, slippery or sticky. A woman’s body usually makes more of it as she approaches ovulation. At that time, the color and consistency may resemble egg whites.

Arousal fluid is produced when a woman is sexually stimulated, lubricating the vagina for comfortable intercourse. Both the brain and the vagina are involved with making arousal fluid. Once the sexual response cycle is triggered in the brain, the glands in the vagina produce this clear, slippery fluid.

Some women produce more arousal fluid than others, and some prefer that their vagina be “wetter” for easier penetration. Having more foreplay can be one way to improve lubrication. It can help to focus specifically on the pleasurable sensations, thoughts, and fantasies that trigger lubrication. Women may also consider using a lubricant for vaginal dryness.

To learn more about lubricants and why lubrication is important, please see these links:

What is a lubricant?
Why is vaginal lubrication important for women?

Over time, women get to know the characteristics of their own typical vaginal fluids. They can familiarize themselves further by touching it and noting its usual color, consistency, and smell.

Changes in these characteristics (for example, a different color or a distinct odor) could be a sign of infection.

Abnormal vaginal fluids

Depending on the type of infection, discharge may become green, yellow, gray, or brown. It may become thinner, thicker, or look like cottage cheese. And it can start to smell unusual. (Some women describe the smell as “fishy” or “metallic.”) There may be other symptoms as well, such as pain or itching. 

If these symptoms occur, a woman should see her gynecologist as soon as possible. Abnormal vaginal discharge can be caused by yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infections like trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia.

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