Do you ever feel like everyone in the world can tell you’re on your period? Everyone feels self-conscious about their period sometimes—especially when we first begin to menstruate. And while there should be no reason to feel any shame about what is a normal bodily function, that’s not the real-world situation we always find ourselves in.
But the first step in letting go of shame and stigma where we can is by learning the truth of the matter. So today we are going to separate some myths and misconceptions around menstrual odor.
Why Do Periods Smell a Certain Way?
During your cycle, your body releases menstrual blood during your period. But menstrual blood isn’t just blood. It’s really blood, plus uterine lining tissue, and of course, the normal fluids that your vagina excretes. This combination has a slight, sometimes metallic odor, which can fluctuate due to things like bacteria and acidity. So you do not have to ask yourself “Why does my period blood smell?” anymore. Now you know.
Can Everyone Smell When I’m on My Period?!
Generally, your period won’t be noticeable to others. If it is strong enough to be noticed through your pants, for example, it’s more likely that you have sprung a leak than anyone can smell anything through your menstrual care device. If you don’t have a leak and a smell is still noticeable, you may have another infection and should go see your doctor about the issue.
…Okay, What About Bears?
This myth has been persisting for a while, and definitely offputting for the outdoors-inclined. At least as far as National Park Service in Yellowstone is concerned, there is no statistical evidence showing that bears are attracted to menstrual blood.
Can I Use Scented Menstrual Products?
The menstrual care aisle at the store can be overwhelming for many reasons. There are just so many different products, all claiming to be the key to an easier period. And, of course, there is the section of products with delicate floral scents, promising to hide all period smells.
While some people may be able to use these products with no problem, a lot of them can irritate the sensitive skin of your vulva and vagina. And look, we’re people, not petunias—our vaginas aren’t meant to smell like flowers!
If you want to avoid unpleasant menstrual odor, the best thing to do is to follow these basic hygiene steps:
- Bathe or shower at least once a day to keep your body clean and avoid odor
- Use only water or pH balanced, unscented, and purpose-specific washes for your vulva (not normal body soaps, shampoos, or douches)
- Again, avoid douches
- Make sure to change your menstrual care product as often as recommended
- Try a medical silicone menstrual cup; it is worn inside and catches rather than absorbs menstrual flow, which means no opportunity for it to emit an odor
- Wear clean, breathable underwear and pants
For more tips on avoiding period smells or practicing food period hygiene, make sure to check out our guide!
Should I Care About My Period Smell?
Because it’s mostly only us that notices our own period scent, you shouldn’t really stress out about someone else being able to smell it. Which, we know, doesn’t mean someone in your class or that you hang out with might not figure out you’re on your period somehow, but honestly—who cares? Periods happen to half the world’s population, so they are truly not that big a deal.
So if you don’t need to worry about your friend Chris or a bear in the woods smelling your period, does mean you can totally ignore it? We say…90% yes. Menstrual odor should not be an issue for you as long as you’re following the basic hygiene tips above. That means no special watermelon-scented wipes or douches are needed as long as you’re showering and changing your menstrual care product as needed. But, if you do notice a very strong or different scent, talk to your doctor about this change as it could be a sign of something serious.
Want to Help Dispel Menstruation Stigma?
We’ve teamed up with Binti to help you do exactly that! Binti is a UK-based charity that makes it its mission to bring menstrual education around the world. As they describe it:
“Binti was the first period charity registered in the UK and India. We have a mission to provide menstrual dignity to all girls, all over the world. This means facilitating access to pads to ensure menstrual health, educating girls about what menstruation is and what they can expect from it, and dispelling stigma, taboos, myths and negative perceptions around menstruation.”
We are big fans of Bintoi because their goals are so similar to our own goals. We’re working with them to help make a difference—for every menstrual cup bought in the UK, we will donate a cup to Binti so that they can help bring menstrual dignity to someone in need.
Lane Baumeister is an internationally-based Canadian writer with several years’ experience creating educational and entertaining articles that discuss intimate health and sexual well-being. When not waxing profound about menstruation, she devotes herself to enjoying extremely good food and equally bad movies.