There's an age-old saying that death and taxes are the only certainties in life, but if you're a person with a vagina, you can add daily vaginal discharge to that list too. It's true: When you have a vagina, you can pretty much bet there will be some stuff in your undies at the end of the day.
As a matter of fact, it's sort of strange if your drawers aren't regularly dotted with vaginal secretions, because discharge is usually an indication that your vagina is working to stay healthy.
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Released by glands in the vagina and cervix, vaginal discharge is simply fluid that carries dead cells and bacteria out of the vagina to help keep it clean and prevent infection, Jodie Horton, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
But the spots in your skivvies might look different throughout the month. That's because the color, consistency and amount of your discharge can vary depending on things like sexual arousal, ovulation, hormonal changes, pregnancy or infections.
Here, Dr. Horton helps us decode vaginal discharge, explaining what's normal and when it's time to see your doctor.
1. White or Cloudy Discharge
While seeing some milky white liquid in your undies can be kind of gross, it actually means your vagina is doing a good job of cleaning itself.
"White or cloudy discharge is a sign of normal, healthy vaginal discharge," Dr. Horton says. "As long as you don't experience any itching or irritation, white or milky discharge is nothing to be concerned about."
2. Yellow or Green Discharge
Conversely, yellow or green discharge may indicate a bacterial infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like trichomoniasis, gonorrhea or chlamydia, Dr. Horton says.
With trichomoniasis (a common STI caused by a parasite), discharge is often foul-smelling and may be white, gray, yellow or green in color, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, you might experience vaginal burning, redness and/or pain with urination and sex.
Other symptoms of STIs can include pelvic pain, nausea, vomiting or fever.
If you're concerned about a possible exposure to an STI and you have funky yellow or green discharge (along with any other symptoms), see your doctor, stat. Your health care provider can take a discharge sample to make a diagnosis and will treat you with antibiotics, Dr. Horton says.
3. Pink Discharge
Pink vaginal discharge can be due to spotting, which you may notice before or after your menstrual cycle, during ovulation or after vigorous sex, Dr. Horton says.
"However, if you have bleeding after sex, painful sex, prolonged and heavy periods or post-menopausal bleeding, then this may be due to something more serious like cervical or uterine cancer," Dr. Horton says. Cervical infection and cervical polyps (benign, rarely cancerous growths on your cervix) can also cause spotting, she adds.
In these cases, you should always follow up with your physician, who may perform certain diagnostic tests such as a pelvic exam, Pap smear or a biopsy of the lining of your uterus to help identify the problem, Dr. Horton explains.
4. Brown Discharge
A smatter of brown discharge on your crisp white underwear can be an eyesore, but it's generally nothing to worry about.
"Brown discharge is usually due to old blood," Dr. Horton says.
During your period, discharge can vary from bright red to dark red or brown in color. The latter is a result of old blood that has been sitting in the uterus, which eventually passes through the vagina, she explains.
A small amount of bleeding can also result from a Pap smear, pelvic exam or a cervical polyp, Dr. Horton adds. "The blood can sit in the vagina, turn dark red or brown and slowly pass over the next day or so," she says.
5. Cottage Cheese-Like Discharge
If you have a lumpy discharge in your drawers that resembles a smear of cottage cheese, you're likely dealing with a yeast infection.
"A yeast infection is caused by an overgrowth of fungus called Candida in the vagina," Dr. Horton says. In addition to a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge, accompanying symptoms include itching, burning and irritation.
Yeast infections can be treated with an anti-fungal medication either placed in the vagina or via a pill taken by mouth, Dr. Horton says. But first, schedule an appointment with your doctor to make sure that's what you're dealing with.
6. Sticky or Jelly-Like Discharge
Sticky or jelly-like discharge typically means that your body is preparing to ovulate and producing more cervical mucus.
"Discharge that has the consistency of egg whites usually occurs during ovulation when there is an increase in estrogen," Dr. Horton says.
In fact, "many women will track their clear, stretchy discharge to determine when they are ovulating and most fertile, i.e., most receptive for the sperm to fertilize an egg," she adds.
7. Clear, Watery Discharge
Similarly, you may also detect a lot of wetness (think: clear, watery discharge) in your underpants during ovulation, Dr. Horton says. Essentially, your body knows that it's most fertile at this time, so it emits this slippery secretion to help sperm journey more easily through your vagina and into your uterus.
Clear, watery discharge also occurs when you're sexually aroused. "Blood rushes to the vagina, causing an increase in the release of lubricating fluids," Dr. Horton explains.
Lastly, you may also notice an uptick in watery discharge during exercise, she adds.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.