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Let’s be honest, we’re not great with chatting about down there.
But the chances are, whatever is going on with your vagina, you’re not the only one experiencing it.
A recent visitor to London's Vagina Museum discovered just this, when she wrote: “I’m 23 years old and I did not know that the acidic discharge that bleaches my underwear was normal!
“I’ve had it happen to me for as long as I can remember and I’ve always felt ashamed about it.
"But now that u know it is normal and healthy I feel so much better! Thank you for this museum.”
And it seems she's not alone. Plenty of other women have been querying the phenomenon online, with one saying: “Why does discharge bleach black underwear and what could we possibly have done to deserve this madness”.
Don't fear; we've spoken to a range of experts who explained exactly what 'bleaching' is - and why it's nothing to worry about.
Gynaecologist Anne Henderson, who is supporting Canesten’s Different Is Normal campaign, explains why vaginal discharge can discolour our underwear.
“A healthy vagina tends to have a more acidic PH, which is monitored by healthy bacteria such as lactobacilli," she says.
"This lactobacillus helps keep the vaginal pH in balance and prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying with the vagina which can cause infections such as thrush.
“However, this does mean that our discharge pH can be slightly acidic and therefore can stain our underwear in some cases.”
Anne explains that not only are stains expected, but they're actually a sign that everything is healthy and normal: “Natural vaginal discharge provides a very healthy protective mechanism," she says.
“There is a huge focus on discharge and why we have it. It is worth noting that it is quite abnormal for women to have no discharge at all.”
If you prefer that your knickers stay intact though, Anne recommends white/pastel-coloured underwear where the discolouring effect will be less obvious, unlike if you were to wear black or darker colours.
However, even though discharge is healthy and normal, it can still be a good indicator of something else is going on if it has a sudden change in appearance or smell.
Anne explains what to look out for so that you’re in the know when it comes to checking in with your gusset.
“If you start experiencing very thick discharge, similar to a cream or cottage cheese consistency, this can be an indication of thrush. It can have quite obvious particulate lumps in it. In most cases, thrush doesn’t have an odour, as opposed to BV [bacterial vaginosis], which has a distinguishing fishy smell.
“Thrush is usually completely odourless, but has characteristic burning and irritation; which can run all the way down the vagina and then onto the vulva.”
“Women who have BV will often experience a white or greyish discharge which may be runny alongside a characteristically ‘fishy’ odour which is very distinguishing. Women may also experience pain or discomfort in the bladder when urinating, similar to symptoms of cystitis.”
Still, there’s no need to panic at every change you see with your discharge. There’s a lot of regular things that can impact how it looks and smells that means that everything is perfectly fine, with your discharge changing throughout your cycle.
We also chatted to Dr Shree Datta on behalf of INTIMINA, who adds: “Don't forget that the nature of your vaginal discharge can change throughout your menstrual cycle - this may be entirely natural for you, but if you have any concerns consult your doctor for a check up. This may include an examination, smear and infection screen. Also check whether your partner has any symptoms.”
Dr Shree explains: “If you're worried about your vaginal discharge, monitor its colour and smell throughout your cycle. Make sure you have a full STI screen after every sexual partner - and check that they have had one too, to reduce the risk of STIs.”
She also has some super important advice on how to clean yourself to not cause any issues: “Avoid vaginal douching with scented bath products or soaps - simple warm water to the delicate vaginal skin is enough to maintain cleanliness whilst avoiding upsetting the delicate balance of natural bacteria in your vagina.”
Finally, the expert reassures us that when discharge does impact your underwear, it’s still completely safe to wear that pair of knickers. It won’t cause any problems to your vagina so you don’t need an emergency trip to the shops.
That might seem like a lot of information at once, but it’s vital info that means we can be experts about our own bodies.
Women’s health isn’t discussed enough - so let's set aside the embarrassment and start a proper conversation...
Featured Image Credit: Pexels/Karolina Grabowska
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