Every woman experiences vaginal discharge to some extent throughout her life, whether it’s during sex, during ovulation or during first trimester of pregnancy. While the amount of discharge is not necessarily concerning, the presence of a bad odor, abnormal color or genital discomfort usually indicate that you have an infection. In order to avoid wrongly diagnosing the underlying cause of the discharge, you need to understand how your body works, and what role vaginal mucus really plays.
In this article, we are talking about when vaginal discharge is normal and when not, and how to track the changes that it suffers throughout your menstrual cycle.
What Is Normal Vaginal Discharge Supposed to Look Like?
Vaginal discharge (or cervical mucus) refers to the fluid produced by glands inside of your vagina and cervix, which is usually made up of dead cells and bacteria living in the vaginal flora. The role of this fluid is keeping your vagina clean and healthy and preventing bacteria or other organisms from traveling up to your uterus. The amount of vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman and depends on a couple of factors – for example, pregnant women experience a lot more discharge due to hormonal changes, but non-pregnant women may also experience lots of discharge during ovulation. On average, the vagina produces about one teaspoon of discharge per day.
Normal discharge is usually clear or whitish, and its consistency usually ranges from clumpy to uncooked egg white to watery depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. Normally, the discharge shouldn’t bear any odor although it may sometimes smell a bit musky, and it shouldn’t be accompanied by any itching, swelling, redness, burning or pain.
How Does Your Menstrual Cycle Affect Vaginal Discharge?
As already mentioned, the hue, consistency and amount of vaginal mucus are largely influenced by the time in your menstrual cycle. At certain times of the cycle, your body produces more estrogen, which causes your vagina to produce more discharge. Below we have highlighted the types of discharge you should expect to see from the time your period ends to the time your next period starts.
1. Dry & Thick Discharge
- Characteristics: White to pale yellow color; dry, pasty and clumpy texture that feels like a thick lotion when rubbed between fingers; no odor.
- Time of Occurrence: After period; after abortion; after menopause.
- Fertile?: No. Due to being very dry and clumpy, sperm cells cannot travel to the uterus – that’s why the days immediately after your period are called “dry days.”
2. Creamy White Discharge
- Characteristics: Milky white to yellowish color; creamy texture (thinner than dry discharge, but still pretty dense) that feels like lotion when rubbed between fingers; no odor.
- Time of Occurrence: Between your “dry days” and ovulation; after abortion; after miscarriage.
- Fertile?: Yes. However, chances of getting pregnant are very low. The discharge filters out abnormal sperm cells to ensure that only the strongest and most viable unite with your precious egg.
3. Egg White Discharge
- Characteristics: Clear to whitish color; uncooked egg white-like texture that feels sticky when rubbed between fingers; can stretch 1-2 inches without breaking in the middle; no odor.
- Time of Occurrence: During ovulation; during third trimester of pregnancy; during intercourse.
- Fertile?: Yes. Sperm cells can travel vigorously to the uterus and unite with your egg.
4. Watery Discharge
- Characteristics: Clear to slightly whitish color; watery texture that feels very slippery and may run off your finger; no odor.
- Time of Occurrence: The day before the egg is released or the day it’s released.
- Fertile?: Yes. This is the most fertile type of vaginal discharge, and allows sperm cells to easily travel to the uterus.
Changes in Vaginal Discharge: What Causes Them?
Your vaginal mucus may sometimes look a bit abnormal – for example, it may be slightly brownish the day after your period, after miscarriage, or after implantation. There are many factors that may cause your discharge to be slightly more different than usually. If you have an infection, the discharge may be milky white, yellow, gray or even greenish with a thick, clumpy consistency. Other symptoms of vaginal infections include bad, fishy odor, itching, swelling and redness of the vulva, burning after peeing, pain during intercourse, and sometimes even mild bleeding. The amount of discharge is usually larger, and may increase during sex. Some symptoms, such as odor in case of a BV, may be more noticeable after intercourse.
Common vaginal infections include yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, Chlamydia, trichomoniasis and gonorrhea. The same symptoms may occur in case of a forgotten tampon inside of the vagina, use of feminine hygiene products, and hormonal changes. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor and have a few vaginal swabs taken to identify what’s causing the discharge, and get appropriate treatment.
See more on potential causes of abnormal discharge here “Must-Knows About Milky White Vaginal Discharge: Potential Causes & What to Do About It”
White Vaginal Discharge During Sex: Is It Normal?
Many women report an increasing amount of clear or whitish discharge during sexual intercourse. This type of discharge is usually referred to as “lubricating discharge,” and is not the same with vaginal discharge. Its role is facilitating intercourse by lubricating the vaginal opening and moistening the labia. Lubricating discharge is produced by Bartholin’s and Skene’s glands, which are located below and respectively above the vaginal opening. This type of discharge is stretchy, slippery, sticky, and may have a slightly musky smell. Usually, the amount of discharge increases during penetration, and may continue several hours after sex.
How to Track Changes in Vaginal Discharge?
Keep in mind that your body is unique, so your discharge may be different from that of other women. To know whether it’s normal or not, you should start tracking its changes in hue, consistency and amount throughout your menstrual cycle. Take note of the changes every few days, and write them down. If any sudden change occurs – for example, the discharge is yellow when it should have been clear, or has a bad odor – you will know that you should see your GP or go to a sexual health clinic to have the issue checked. Don’t forget that symptoms may sometimes return (say, after yeast infection treatment), which is why you should consult your gyn as frequently as possible.