Wellness·5 min read

The Colors and Consistencies of Vaginal Discharge, and What They Mean

A person sitting on the toilet with their underwear around their ankles.
Design: theSkimm | Photo: Getty Images
May 26, 2022

If you’re a vagina owner, you’re probably more than familiar with vaginal discharge. Aka the fluid vaginas produce to get rid of dead skin cells and debris, which keeps ‘em healthy and clean. But, surprise, discharge actually comes in several different colors. Because, in addition to being self-cleaning, the vagina is also an excellent communicator. The color of vaginal discharge can indicate what’s going on internally. And tell you if there’s an issue and if you should call up a gyno. We looked into what each color of vaginal discharge means, when you might see more or less vaginal discharge, and other related symptoms to keep an eye on.

What are the different colors of vaginal discharge?

The color of your vaginal discharge can tell you a lot about your vaginal health. It can sometimes act as a red flag for when you’re dealing with an infection or STD, or it could even mean nothing at all. Here’s what it means if you have…

  • Clear vaginal discharge: Considered healthy. The amount that it discharges can fluctuate, but that’s totally normal. For instance, you might see more discharge after exercising or when you're turned on.

  • Milky white discharge: Also considered healthy. However, if you notice a chunkier texture (think: cottage cheese), that can be a sign of a yeast infection.

  • Gray discharge: A common symptom of bacterial vaginosis. More about BV here

  • Yellow discharge: It’s complicated. As long as you have no other symptoms, pale yellow discharge is a sign of healthy lubrication. Rest easy. But if you’re seeing bright yellow or a yellow-green hue, it could be a sign of an STI. It’s nothing to be ashamed about. It just means you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. 

  • Green discharge: Another sign of a health condition. Green discharge can mean an STD like gonorrhea, or an infection like BV. And a reason to see a doctor or head to urgent care right away. 

  • Pink discharge: It might just mean the start of your period. Or the opposite. An indication of implantation bleeding during early pregnancy. It can also be due to bleeding from small tears in the vagina after sex.

  • Red discharge: It happens during your period, and can come in a few different shades like bright red or rusty brown. If you’re seeing red between cycles, it could be irregular spotting or a sign of infection. Red discharge might also indicate a miscarriage. 

  • Watery discharge: It’s totally fine. Vaginal discharge can appear watery during ovulation and sexual arousal.

  • Brown discharge: It’s common at the end of your period, and usually nothing to be concerned about. But if you see brown discharge between periods, it could be a sign of an infection. And seeing your doc about it might be best. 

What does healthy vaginal discharge look like?

Clear or white discharge is considered healthy. But the amount and consistency varies from person to person. How much discharge you see also depends on factors like hormones, your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and sexual activity. And there may be times when you see no discharge at all.

What if there’s no discharge — just an itchy or burning sensation? 

If you don’t see any discharge, but notice other symptoms like itching, burning, or irritation, you should call your doctor. It could be caused by something as simple as sweating or razor burn. But it could also mean something more serious like, genital herpes or pubic lice. Which would require medical treatment. 

Why does my vaginal discharge smell? 

Vaginal discharge, just like vaginas in general, have smells. Period. But as long as your discharge doesn’t smell particularly strong, fishy, or generally off, you have nothing to worry about. 

Is it normal to see discharge before my period? 

A hundred percent. Higher levels of white or cloudy vaginal discharge is common between ovulation and the start of your period. It increases because the hormone, progesterone, is released during this time. Basically, it's your menstrual cycle doing its thing.

What should I do about vaginal discharge?

If you’re experiencing healthy discharge (read: white or clear and no abnormal textures or smells), just sit tight. But if the discharge bothers you, wear a pad or an underwear liner (and postpone your laundry day — IYKYK). 

Keep in mind: There are a few ways to maintain your vaginal health, and prevent excessive and discolored vaginal discharge from developing. Like:

  • Wear underwear made of breathable fabrics (like cotton)

  • Don’t douche 

  • Don’t use feminine sprays or scented products in the vagina

  • Wipe from front to back 

theSkimm

Vaginal discharge is often your body’s way of keeping your vagina healthy. And it’s totally normal. But when it turns certain colors, that can be a sign that something’s off. If that happens and you aren’t sure what’s causing it, make an appointment with your doctor to get it checked out. 

This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not constitute a medical opinion, medical advice, or diagnosis or treatment of any particular condition. 


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