My vaginal discharge smells like onions after sex. Should I be concerned?

My vaginal discharge smells like onions after sex. Should I be concerned?
Samantha Lee/Insider
My vaginal discharge smells like onions after sex. Should I be concerned?
Crystal Cox/Insider; Samantha Lee/Insider
  • Though unpleasant, a temporary onion-like smell likely isn't cause for concern about your health, according to gynecologist Dr. Mary Jane Minkin.
  • The smell could be a sign penetration briefly changed your vaginal pH. If it's bothersome, a pH-balancing gel could help, but it's also OK to let it be.
  • Your diet could also play a role, since onions and garlic can cause vaginal discharge to smell. Regardless, it's a normal occurrence and nothing to be embarrassed about.
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Usually my vaginal discharge has little to no smell, and my boyfriend has pretty clean hands.

But usually a few hours to a day after he fingers me, my discharge literally smells like onions. I know, it's so awkward.

The smell goes away after a shower. Sometimes, my boyfriend washes his hands before we do anything because I've told him about it, but the smell still persists.


My discharge doesn't change in consistency or color, just smell. I'm not sure what it is or what to do. Should I be worried?

- Massachusetts

Dear Massachusetts,


An onion-scented vagina sounds scary, but don't be alarmed: The smell you're picking up on down there likely isn't cause for concern.

According to Yale professor and gynecologist Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a temporary abnormal scent probably means your vaginal pH changed due to your boyfriend's fingers. Sex toys and penile penetration can also lead to a funky scent after sex, according to Minkin.

But since the smell goes away after you shower, it's likely not indicative of a health problem.


"I think the major concern is how long does it last? How transient is it? If somebody has a little odor and it's gone by the next day, don't worry about it," Minkin told me.

In fact, everyone's vaginal discharge has a slightly different smell, and that's completely normal, according to Minkin.

On the other hand, a more persistent onion-like smell that lasts multiple days could be a sign you have bacterial vaginosis, an infection that occurs when too much "bad" bacteria grows in the vagina. Bacterial vaginosis is also often accompanied with itchiness and sometimes a burning sensation when you pee, according to the Mayo Clinic.


If the odor ever persists, you should see your healthcare provider. But if it's more of a temporary post-sex bother, Minkin suggested a pH-balancing gel like Rephresh, which helps restore your vagina to a normal pH level and therefore curbs any lingering scent.

Steer clear of vaginal douches or feminine wipes and sprays though, as those products could make the smell worse or lead to an infection.

You might also want to consider if your diet is playing a role.


Eating onions and garlic can lead to an onion-like smell in your vaginal discharge for 24 to 48 hours, Dr. Debora Nucatolah, the Medical Director at Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, previously told Teen Vogue. She said a shower does the trick to get rid of the smell, just like you've experienced.

Regardless of the cause, a temporary funk is nothing for you to feel ashamed of. So long as you're enjoying sex and taking care of yourself, I say let your vagina be onion-y in peace.

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