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My Vagina Smells Like Shame

January 13, 2014 20 Comments

I had a friend in university who grew a moustache because he liked going down on women and retaining their scent the day after in the hairs beneath his nostrils… I used to see him in my quantitative methods class stroking his moustache upwards and winking at me. He gloried in the smell of pussy. But when I was growing up he was one of the few who did. From all other quarters, jokes abounded about fish and smeg (we can thank Red Dwarf for that).

When my period started I was ill-prepared for the mess and the smell. During my first heavy period whilst reaching for a tampon, I bled down my legs. And as the blood fell, so did my tears. I was horrified and ashamed. The best advice from the magazines was, ‘It smells when it hits the air so you can wear tampons [better to stuff it up than to smell it]. It smells, but normally you’re the only one who can smell it [just to remind you what a sinner you are]. Wash twice a day between your legs when you have your period [extremely practical when you’re at school]. Carry wet wipes with you at ALL times.’ And so it began. A costly and mostly ineffective attempt to make my vagina smell like the rose it wasn’t.

Nowadays I can smell myself throughout my cycle and I know what I smell like. It’s not roses. Whether it’s discharge or blood, it smells like vagina. Yes. Surprisingly vagina smells – well – like vagina. It changes according to what I eat, what I drink, my activity and the time of the month. Despite my best efforts at loving myself, I’m barely okay with the way I smell…and I’m still terrified when I meet a new lover to let him go there. In fact as I lie there looking at the ceiling during what should be a hot moment, the thought crosses my mind. How on earth can he like doing that? Is he cringing as he’s doing it? And lastly…will he leave me if he thinks I’m disgusting?

It’s not my smell that bothers me per se.

(FACT. I smell far less pungent than camembert and loads of people love that. Yes, I have actually used this justification to myself).

I know that every woman smells unique. I know that good and bad is simply a judgement. No. My fear is that he might be indoctrinated by the same system  I am struggling to escape. And if I see my own insecurity mirrored in his eyes, I will feel once again the humiliation that I felt growing up. The humiliation of having a vagina and knowing that others know I have a vagina. Blood is evidence I have a vagina. Discharge is evidence I have a vagina. Camel Toe is evidence I have a vagina. And perhaps most insidious of all; smell is evidence…that I have a vagina.

My vagina smells like shame. Rancid and sickly. SHAME.

Since educating myself through my own personal project The Vagina Times, I’ve discovered so much about our systemic culture of shame which has prompted women to mutilate, bleach and douche their genitals to eliminate their natural shape, colour and smell.  It’s truly heartbreaking. Because shame stems from someone else’s emotional repression. And their beliefs become internalized until we perpetutate them and shame our daughters. [The Genesis of Shame]

When women perpetuate their own emotional repression on our girls, we're fighting a losing battle.

When women perpetuate their own emotional repression on our girls, we’re fighting a losing battle.

In fact, for me this is the worst aspect of vulval and vaginal shame. We not only betray ourselves, but we betray our daughters. In the most extreme examples, mothers hold down their struggling, screaming daughters with other female village elders to go through horrific female genital mutilation because those women are shamed so strongly, that they think it is better put their daughters through a mentally, emotionally and physically scarring procedure – to cut away all existence of the vulva and sew up the vagina like it was never there – than it is to admit that women were born with the capacity of enjoying ourselves sexually. And that we have a vulva and vagina specifically designed to do so.

But even for those of us who don’t come from cultures like these, we are shamed in other ways. Here’s what Eldiese, a self proclaimed lipstick lesbian in Australia had to say about it.

You also need to smell fresh as a daisy everywhere whenever you see her after that, and I mean everywhere! God forbid the lady is performing the ever sacred going down dance and doesn’t like what she sniffs! My advice ladies, the sacred lotus flower is never going to smell like roses so breathe through your mouths! Eldiese Sapphic City

Breathe through your mouths!!!

What I want is for my lover to glory in my smell. To breathe in my musk and feel the heat rising in his body. To lap it up even if i haven’t had a shower 2 hours before, or even 24 hours before. I don’t want him to do me a favour and breathe through his mouth. Or be disgusted… so much so that he might be able to fuck it, but never to kiss it.

What I want is to love myself and my smell and have him love it too. And so I must lose my shame.

Because the large majority of smells in themselves are neutrally perceived including natural bodily odour. It is our reaction to them which is a conditioned response.

When you first smell a new scent, you link it to an event, a person, a thing or even a moment. Your brain forges a link between the smell and a memory — associating the smell of chlorine with summers at the pool or lilies with a funeral. When you encounter the smell again, the link is already there, ready to elicit a memory or a mood. How Stuff Works

For most of us growing up in this culture our response to vagina, it’s shape, colour and smell, is SHAME. My mother made sure of that.

Here’s the thing. Your vagina smells and tastes fantastic to those who love you (and even sometimes those who don’t). If it doesn’t, it only means that they are themselves buried in shame. And you know deep down, no matter how hard you scrub your vagina or how many times a day you douche, you will never be rid of shame. Because it doesn’t come off with soap and water, it only dissolves with love. As if it was never there. So love you and your smell and others will too. It’s really that simple.

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Filed in: Sex & Sexuality • Tags: , , ,

About the Author:

Louisa LeontiadesLouisa lives in an open relationship with her partners and two children in Sweden. She's the author of The Husband Swap and is chairwoman of the National Polyamory Association. She's also a contributor to Huffington Post, Salon, Nerve, Jezebel and the Guardian. She lives a life which makes for a lot of stories.

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  1. Jennifer says:

    A HEALTHY vagina, smells like almost nothing, like clean skin. If your vagina smells bad, I could understand why it would shame you. The only time mine has smelled unpleasant was when I had a vaginal infection. Even my period doesn’t smell bad, and I’ve had several men perform oral sex on me during that time of the month and they enjoyed it. I didn’t really want them to but they insisted. I have a hard time believing so many women still think their vagina is supposed to smell bad (and some men think that too, based on their experiences, of course). If my vagina has an undesirable odor, I know I need to take care of an infection. I used to be unaware that my vagina was supposed to smell good, many years ago. I’ve been aware for almost 20 years now, which means almost 20 years of sexual confidence. Sounds like you still are unaware of this. Men love the way I smell and they love to perform on me, and I’m not ashamed because I know I smell good. Please talk to your doctor. Although, I know some doctors are also oblivious to this as well.

  2. nondouchr says:

    Having my own experiences with woman in my college days I could tell you, that Yes woman do smell. Each one is unique. No this does not always imply that infection is present. Some woman naturally smell. When you are pregnant you smell worse.
    I remember my first pregnancy, marching into my gyno freaking out over smelly vagina. But its normal. All of this is normal, and men and woman love vagina. Smelly or not. I would only hope that mine would not smell like anything but unique. Smell like mine, Pheromones, woman. Certainly not a bar of soap.

  3. Louisa Leontiades Louisa Leontiades says:

    My vagina smells like a vagina. Yours might smell like clean skin, and so does mine in the hour after I step out of the shower but for most women discharge (even healthy discharge) soon puts paid to that. The amount of discharge for each woman varies. You smell stronger in certain times of the month….for obvious reasons!

  4. Esperanza says:

    The vagina does have an scent to it. And most of the times, it has nothing to do poor hygiene or infections, it just naturally has a scent to it. I, too, was a victim of feeling shame for the way women smell down there. Growing up, I heard countless jokes about how it can smell like fish and all. From my own experience, I’ve encountered times mine would smell like fish especially around that time of the month. Did I have an infection? No. UTI? No. Poor hygiene? No. It’s just a normal thing. Now that I’ve entered womanhood in my 30s, I realize most men are turned on by this scent and, by no means, find it to be offensive. We are our biggest critics about it. And to the men who DO feel it stinks, I learned they are just ignorant. I once educated a man about the vagina. I asked him to consider all these facts:

    1. The amount of times a woman uses the washroom daily
    2. How many women actually wash their vaginas with soap and water after every trip to the washroom (none, I’m sure)
    3. Is the vagina moist and covered up? Or, is it dry and well-ventilated?
    4. How often do women wash their vaginas? I would think most of us, the answer is daily in the shower.

    With all that in mind, it’s a no-brainer why the vagina has a scent to it. I’ve learned to love and embrace mine and I can assure you my boyfriend or any other man I’ve had sexual encounters with love it, too. I’ve known men to carry used panties with them just so they get a whiff of the scent. I’ve known men to get extremely sexually aroused when they smell it. It really is an amazing scent!!

  5. Patricia says:

    This was great – and much-needed! One thing I’m very passionate about – having felt ashamed of my own body when I was younger – is getting the right info out to women so that they can enjoy their bodies instead of feeling this shame and insecurity. We live in a world where nearly every media message is telling us we need to “correct” the female body. We need more voices like yours to be a light of truth and tell women that they are naturally “enough” and don’t need fixing!

  6. Louisa Leontiades Louisa Leontiades says:

    Thanks Patricia. Your body is amazing. And we are all ‘enough’.

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