I am a 16 year old girl and I am sexually active, and I’m a little worried because I have discharge every day and sometimes it’s wet and then it dries. What is going on?

external female anatomy
Talking about vaginal discharge can feel weird, but let’s face it, it’s a normal function of the human body. Everyone’s body is a little different, so it can be hard to tell what is normal and abnormal. Let’s talk about some key information about normal vaginal discharge and when things go wrong.

What is normal vaginal discharge?

internal female anatomy

The vagina is a part of the female reproductive system and is connected to other parts including the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes and ovaries. The outside of the female reproductive tract is called the vulva. The female reproductive tract makes a fluid that has lots of healthy bacteria to help keep the vagina clean and moist. For most people with vaginas this fluid is whitish or yellowish, a little cloudy, and may even stain the underwear. Sometimes it dries up on the underwear or the amount of fluid increases. Sometimes it has a slight odor other times it does not. Sometimes it can even become a little stringy like mucus because of changes in your hormones. These different changes can all be normal. Some people use panty liners to prevent the discharge from getting on their underwear. Drinking plenty of water also helps to keep your discharge from being too thick. Everyone’s a little different! What’s important is finding out what is normal for you.

What is abnormal discharge and when should I be worried?

Knowing your normal vaginal discharge is helpful so that you know when something changes or when something isn’t right. For example, if your discharge has a different smell, color or consistency than normal. Abnormal discharge can happen for different reasons including poor hygiene, an imbalance in the bacteria in the vagina, and a sexually transmitted infection.

Poor hygiene

Poor hygiene and wearing tight fitting clothes can cause build-up of sweat and bacteria which can lead to odor and irritation. Washing the outside area with just plain soap and water (avoid harsh soaps or products, and no douching) are the best way to care for the vagina and vulva.

Imbalance

Yeast infections are caused when the yeast that is normally in your vagina overgrows. Yeast likes warm moist places, so wearing tight clothes and not changing out of sweaty or wet clothes can put you at risk. Some people get yeast infections after taking antibiotics because the medication kills not only the bad bacteria that was making them sick but also the healthy normal bacteria. This can allow for the yeast to overgrow. People with vaginas who have a yeast infection may notice clumpy thick white discharge kind of like cottage cheese and burning and itching around the outside of the vagina and vulva.

Similar to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an imbalance in the unhealthy versus healthy bacteria. Some people will notice a thin whitish or greyish discharge and a fishy odor.

Bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections. although having sex can increase your chances of having an imbalance. You can talk to your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms and get treatment.

Infection

A sexually transmitted infection is an infection caused by a bacteria or virus when there is any contact between the mouth, vaginal, penis or anus such as vaginal sex, anal sex or oral sex. Sexually transmitted infections are also a common cause of abnormal discharge and can cause more serious problems. Yellow, green, gray or pink discharge can all be signs of a sexually transmitted infection. Sometimes people can have no symptoms at all. If you are worried that you might have an infection, you should reach out to your health care provider to get tested and treated.

Resources

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Natasha Ramsey, MD, MPH, is a Fellow in the Department of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine. She has an interest in reproductive health, global health, and engaging with youth through social media.
Jessica Ehrhardt, BS, is the Program Coordinator for Special Immunology Services at Children’s. Her interests are in Maternal and Child Health, HIV, and Reproductive Health.
Sherla Cannon is a current honors student who will be completing her Bachelor’s in Human Development, concentration in Preschool, from the University of District of Columbia in December 2020. She has several years of experience working in DC elementary schools and is a HIV activist and mentor within the DC area.

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Posts from Natasha Ramsey, MD, MPH, Jessica Ehrhardt and Sherla Cannon