If your vagina were the universe!
(And let’s be real…IT IS!) and if one day it had a chance encounter with Greek Mythology (it could happen), then your discharge would be Hermes. Side note: I giggle at the thought of discharge having winged feet and a hat, but I digress.
First, a little background for all the non-mythology geeks. Hermes was an Olympian god with the capability to traverse borders and guide folks to the “underworld.” He was actually quite powerful because he was a child of Zeus. As the god of boundaries and transitions, Hermes was notorious for being quick and calculating. He alone held the ability to freely shift between the mortal and divine worlds. That competence made Hermes the messenger to the gods and an intermediary between mortals and the celestials. In addition, Hermes, a tricky little guy, was known for his association with fertility so I think he fits right in with discharge.
Now put on your winged imagination cap, and picture vaginal discharge as a messenger, specifically as Hermes, your body’s very own gossip god. Your discharge divulges the secrets of your “underworld’s” health. Sure it doesn’t speak our dialect, but it does chatter. It verbalizes through odor, color, consistency, and pH.
Most often, vaginal discharge stays in its lane as a normal and regular happening, saying, “All clear ladies! No funny business going on in my universe today.” Then there are times when discharge gets it panties in a wad about something going awry in the “underworld,” and it starts its babble. It will talk to us in a chunky, foul-smelling, or colorful way, protesting, “I am not happy!!” That little Hermes, always the chatterbox!
An infection, either yeast or bacteria, typically triggers abnormal discharge. If you happen to hear that sort of gossip from Hermes, I recommend you make an appointment with your midwife to decipher the message Hermes has for you.
Let me be the Rosetta Stone of discharge for minute. Vaginal discharge is characteristically categorized by color and consistency.
Discharge to English Translation
- Clear and thin/watery – “I am normal.” “I happen at any time of the cycle.”
- Clear and stretchy – “I am normal.” “I may be ovulating.”
When discharge is clear but egg-like, rather than watery, it implies that you are ovulating. A surge in estrogen, our personal cheerleading hormone, stimulates the production of this form of discharge as you approach ovulation. This egg white cervical mucous (EWCM) is known for its fertile quality (another likeness to Hermes). The EWMC is so kind to sperm that it takes sperm by the hand, nourishes it and protects it in a perfect pH during the journey to meet the egg. (Thinking back into my mythology brain bank, I don’t remember Hermes being able to pull that off.) This variety of discharge is also termed Spinnbarkeit for its fibrous, stringy, and stretchy properties.
- White – “I am most likely normal, particularly if I am talking to you at the start or end of your cycle.” “I am not normal if I make you feel itchy or look thick like cottage cheese. In this case, go see your midwife as I may be yeast.”
- Brown or bloody – “I am commonly normal, especially if I am talking to you through your period or right after you menstruate.” “If I come between periods, just call me spotting. Though annoying, I am usually normal.”
BUT if spotting speaks instead of your normal period, you could be pregnant. OR if spotting occurs early in pregnancy, you should call your midwife. It could still be normal, but a provider should check it out.
Here is where I scream GET OFF THE GOOGLE MACHINE!
It scares folks. But, as a midwife, I do have to say in rare occurrences brown or bloody discharge can be an indicator for cervical cancer. Know your normal so that you know your abnormal. When normal is in question, then, you guessed it, contact your midwife.
- Yellow or green – “I am not doing well.” “If I am thick, chunky, and smelly, I am not normal.” “I may be an infection spread through sexual intercourse called trichomoniasis.”
Many try to hush Hermes, but I urge you to let your discharge voice be heard. We have vaginal discharge for a reason, and it is a part of a healthy bodily function. It cleans and protects the vagina, keeping the “party” balanced and primed. How cool are we, that we have a self-cleaning oven as part of our bodies?!!
Here are a few tips for a healthy vagina:
- Steer clear of douches and any other product that disrupts the normal pH of the vagina.
- Good hygiene is always helpful. For example, after a bowel movement wipe front to back, change pads/tampons regularly during your cycle, and use mild soap and water to clean.
- Try to wear breathable cotton underwear.
- Practice safe sex with protection to avoid sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
We all love a good shindig, right? Barbeque, balloons, booze, bacterial vaginosis…Wait! Say what? So who invited the vaginal infection to the party? Don’t be that guy. Leaving yourself unprotected or even douching invites unwanted guests, and then the vagina party will be a fiesta filled with party crashers that no one wants. Hermes will become a gossip king, and his discharge messages will be flung all over the party like sad, smelly confetti and streamers. What a mess!
It is normal to see an increase in amount of discharge during exercise, stress, pregnancy, arousal, and with the use of birth control pills. It is not, however, normal to see colorful discharge accompanied by itching, burning, or odor. These unpleasant messages are usually caused by infections.
Unfortunately, vaginal infections are something most women will suffer with at some time or another. Even with familiar occurrences, we often make unfitting self-diagnoses and get incorrect and unwarranted over-the-counter products which disrupt the natural flora and fauna that live there and keep things in check. Let’s talk about a few of the party crashers:
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is common and, as its name suggests, is caused by bacteria. With BV you may notice a strong, foul, fishy odor although some women have no symptoms with BV. Semen interacts with the bacteria creating an even stronger smell after unprotected sex. Discharge may be thin and greyish.
- Yeast infection is fungal and generates white, cottage cheese discharge. Most women experience itching and burning with a yeast infection. Yeast in the vagina is normal, but in certain circumstances (stress, diabetes, pregnancy, and antibiotic usage), it can multiply and bully the other organisms at the vagina party to die off, leaving one big yeast festivity. Not a party you want an invite to.
- Trichomoniasis is an infection caused by a protozoan spread by sexual contact. The outcome is a smelly yellow or green discharge. You could also experience inflammation, pain, itching, or no symptoms at all.
- Gonorrhea and chlamydia are both STIs that can deliver a strong memo from Hermes, our discharge messenger. It’s usually yellow, green, or cloudy.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacterial infection that’s typically contracted through sex. The bacteria travels up the vagina and into your reproductive organs. This infection generates a foul-smelling discharge.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is spread by sex and can lead to cervical cancer. You may see bloody or brown discharge with a watery consistency. The message is usually smelly.
Next time you wipe, check the mail box. See what Hermes has to say. Our discharge wants to talk, and you could be holding the message that your party is one no one wants to attend. Your midwife can help.