Sadly, in today’s world vaginal discharge remains a taboo topic, leading many of us to feel embarrassed or worried that our discharge is not normal. Discharge is broad term which refers to fluid which comes from the vagina. It is our bodies way of cleaning itself and of supporting the menstrual cycle- which is super cool! These amazing abilities are rarely discussed and we are made to think discharge is something which should not exist.
Today I want to dive into discharge and explore how it changes throughout the menstrual cycle…
So what is discharge?
Vaginal discharge is completely normal and most people with a vagina will get it. Discharge is a fluid that keeps the vagina moist and protected from infection. It is usually nothing to worry about however, certain smells, consistencies and colours may be a sign of something else.
Discharge refers to any non-period fluid and leaves your vagina. Now let’s get a little science-y. A large component of discharge is cervical fluid which is produced by the cells of your cervix. This fluid changes during your cycle due to hormonal changes.
Cervical fluid enables reproduction by allowing sperm to enter the uterus and reach an egg during ovulation. Cervical fluid also protects sperm from the acidic environment of the vagina and helps to protect the vagina from bacteria. At different points during the cycle, the cervical fluid changes making it more or less difficult for the sperm to reach the uterus.
How discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle?
Discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle, once again showing how cool our bodies are. Everyone’s experience will be slightly different but I will outline below the common changes which occur during the menstrual cycle. Now discharge actually likes a routine, it is a creature of habit and will change (roughly) in the same ways during every cycle.
During your period/menstruation: Beginning of cycle
At the start of your cycle (during your period), blood will mix with cervical fluid and so you probably won’t notice any discharge.
After your period
Just after your period there is commonly not any discharge or very little. It may also be brown but do not worry this is just the end of your period.
In the days up to your ovulation phase, cervical fluid will increase due to an increase in oestrogen (a hormone). Your vaginal discharge will likely to be thicker in consistency and white or cloudy in colour. So why? Again our bodies are being very smart. The fluid is actually thick to try and intercept any sperm and stop them reaching your uterus.
It is important to note that sperm can still make it through and so always used contraception during sex unless you are trying to conceive.
At your most fertile phase, the ovulation phase, this is when you will produce the most discharge. Discharge will be clear, slippery and stretchy. This will likely feel more wet than usual- do not worry it is completely normal! I am sure you can guess that discharge during this phase is a certain consistency to help sperm reach an egg- the fluid allows sperm to live for longer making it more likely to reach an egg.
After ovulation discharge will change once again. Progesterone (another hormone) increases to support a possible pregnancy. This increase in hormone will prevent the release of cervical fluid making discharge thicker.
Signs of something else
Vaginal discharge is 100% normal and changes during our cycle- as our bodies are super cool. Discharge can also change due to hormonal birth control but in some cases may also be the sign of an STI or a vaginal infection. Discharge does have an slight odour and will usually be clear or white, but strong changes in smell and colour can be signs of an infection. Read more about these signs here or visit your GP, nurse or sexual health centre if you are worried (they are there to help!)
Why are we so freaked out by discharge?
Unfortunately, discharge still remain a taboo for many. Women’s bodies and those with uteruses are commonly demonised and stigmatised. A lack of education around vagina health, menstrual health and sexual health and false images and expectations of women means we are made to believe that discharge is something evil. I hope this article opened your eyes to the wonder of our bodies.
If you want to find out more about Lilypads education which aims to challenge the taboo around puberty and menstrual health click here.