The majority of women have a normal vaginal odor that varies from woman to woman. The smell changes throughout the day and can change during your period.

Onions and other strong-smelling foods can affect your sweat glands, which in turn can influence what you smell like down there. You should also avoid scented feminine hygiene products and tight-fitting clothing, and stop douching as it can throw off the balance of your bacterial microbiome.

Poor Hygiene

The genital area is naturally a bit smelly. Women have a natural vaginal odor that keeps the area healthy and free of harmful bacteria and irritants. However, a strong odor that smells like onions can be the result of poor hygiene practices, a forgotten tampon, certain foods, or infection.

A stinky vulva can also be the result of a change in hormone levels, which can happen during the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, or menopause. A high level of estrogen can throw off the pH balance of the vagina, causing it to produce a stronger, more pungent odor. In these cases, washing with a mild soap should be enough to get things smelling better again. Avoid scented feminine hygiene products, tight-fitting clothing, and douching (it can exacerbate the problem) – This part was prepared by the service team

Another possible cause for a stinky vulva is a condition called Rectovaginal Fistula, which is an abnormal opening between the rectum and the vagina. This can occur due to childbirth, Crohn’s disease, or an inflamed bowel, and it can lead to a foul-smelling discharge and painful urination.

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A strong onion-like odor can also be a sign of trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a protozoan parasite that is passed on during sex. The odor typically comes from the urine and vaginal discharge, which can also be accompanied by itching or pain in the vulva.

Rectovaginal Fistula

This rare condition is the result of an abnormal opening between the rectum and the vagina. It is often accompanied by fecal incontinence and, depending on the size of the fistula, it can lead to leaking of urine or feces into the vagina. This is one of the most common reasons that a woman’s vagina may smell like onions.

Fistulas are usually able to be diagnosed by carefully instilling methylene blue dye into the rectum while a tampon is in place. The dye will stain the tampon, indicating that there is an abnormal opening between the rectum and vagina.

If you’re taking medications that affect your hormones, they can throw off the normal pH balance in your vulva and cause it to smell like onions. This includes birth control pills, ovarian hormones, and medications used to treat infections or inflammatory bowel disease.

If your diet consists of foods with strong odors, they can also make your vulva smell like onions. This can be caused by garlic, onions, or other spices that are eaten regularly. Keeping a food diary can help to identify the offending foods and cut them out of your diet. Washing your labia and groin frequently with soap and water, and changing your underwear daily can help to eliminate the onion smell. It’s also a good idea to wear natural, breathable fabrics in your underwear.

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Bacterial Vaginosis

A little vaginal odor is completely normal, but if you notice that it smells like onions or garlic it’s a sign of bacterial vaginosis. This is when too much “bad” bacteria grows in the vagina and can cause itching, pain and a fishy-smelling discharge.

This condition can be caused by many things, including pregnancy, new sexual partners, unprotected sex, a diet low in betaine (found in foods like wheat germ or bran, spinach and seafood) and taking certain antibiotics. Luckily, this condition usually clears up on its own with good hygiene and using a tampon that fits well (the smell of a wet tampon can also resemble rotting onions), but you can speed things up by seeing your doctor to get a prescription for antibiotics.

As Insider’s resident sex and relationships reporter, Julia Naftulin consults with a panel of experts—including relationship therapists, gynecologists and urologists—to bring you science-backed answers to all of your burning questions about love, dating and sex. If you have a question for Julia, email us here. We’ll try to answer your question in a future column.

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Every woman’s vagina has its own distinct scent that can change due to a variety of reasons. Some of those causes include sweat, food, poor hygiene, or forgetting to wear a tampon. A strong onion-like odor, however, can be a sign of an infection.

It may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by too many “bad” bacteria in the vagina, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you have BV, the odor may be accompanied by itching and pain during sex or while peeing. A course of antibiotics should clear up the odor and BV.

Vaginal odor is normal for most women, but a strong onion smell can be a sign of an imbalance of the healthy bacteria in your body or a sexually transmitted infection like trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. If your odor is accompanied by other symptoms, such as a stinging feeling during sex, burning sensation while peeing, or unusually colored discharge, it’s time to see your doctor.

Luckily, most cases of onion vagina are temporary and nothing to be ashamed of. Just be sure to use a condom and practice good hygiene, change out of damp clothing quickly, wear cotton underwear — not polyester or synthetic — while exercising, take a daily probiotic, and eat a balanced diet. Also, don’t forget to wear your tampon!