Sex Education Series: Different Types of Discharge
A weekly series on the stigma surrounding sex and sexual health
We begin this series on Sex Education by talking about discharge, something our teachers and other adult figures in our lives, never really bothered to tell us about. We know about periods and how to create babies, but that’s about it. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking there was something wrong with me the first time I saw this cervical fluid in my new pair of undies from Primark. Sure, they cost a fiver and came in a pack of four — but they were still new.
And don’t even get me started on how ugly it is. The thing is, even today, discharge stains on my knickers is something I really don’t want my boyfriend seeing, even though it is completely natural. In a Refinery29 article, it mentioned a joke Amy Schmeur made — she wanted to “just once take off a pair of underwear and make it not look like I blew my nose in it.” It made me laugh, then sigh, because how true is it?
But what exactly is discharge?
According to the NHS website, “Vaginal discharge is normal — most women and girls get it. It’s a fluid or mucus that keeps the vagina clean and moist, and protects it from infection.” So if you don’t already know, the vagina is self-cleaning and discharge is an almost daily occurrence for most of us with a vagina. On a typical day, it’s not something you should really be worried about.
The important thing to remember about discharge is that it is a pretty good indicator to your health, so it’s best to keep an eye on its colour, consistency, quantity and even smell. This is so you know everything’s okay with your body. Discharge can usually help to determine when you’re ovulating, when you have bacterial vaginosis (BV), a yeast infection, or a Sexually Transmitted Infection.
Discharge normally follows a sort of pattern that can be quite predictable for the most part.
In the early days after your period right up to just before you ovulate (which is the middle of the cycle), a small amount of discharge will be present. It may be dry or sticky and white-ish. (Early-to-mid follicular phase)
After starting off sticky, discharge may become a sort of creamy colour or cloudy, and white/yellowish. (Mid-to-late follicular phase)
During ovulation, discharge tends to be a little heavier and egg-white and wet. This is when the most cervical fluid is made. It’s more stretchy, white, wet and slippery — think egg whites. For some, it can be a little more watery.
After that, the amount of discharge lessens until you start your period. Of course, there may be differences in the colour, texture, consistency of your discharge but it is usually clear/white.
So please bare in mind, it could vary for everyone, as no one body is the same.
What are the other types of discharge and what do they mean?
Light or dark brown: If you’re due on or just finished your period , there may be a few days where your discharge is light or dark brown. Sometimes right at the start of my period, it’s dark brown before becoming red. The reason it’s dark brown is because it is old blood mixing with the cervical mucus.
White-ish and consistent: This is generally what discharge is like and it’s healthy; it should be consistent, clear or white in colour.
Clear and thick: After ovulation and before your period is due, your discharge could be clear and thick, but lighter compared to when you were ovulating.
White and thick: Right before your period, your discharge could be white and thick to signal your next cycle. This type of discharge typically lasts throughout a pregnancy too.
Thick, cottage-cheese like: If it looks like cottage-cheese — curdled, thick, white, and if it’s with a burning or itching or irritated sensation on your vagina, then it could be a yeast infection. You can treat these with over the counter anti-fungal cream (Canesten helped me), but speak to your doctor first. Pregnancy also makes it a bit more complicated since it can be repeating and treatment can differ, so make sure to always talk to your doctor before doing anything!
Grey watery discharge: If your discharge is a sort of grey in colour and a bit watery, and happens alot, combined with a fishy smell, it could be bacterial vaginosis. Get it confirmed with a doctor, as treatment for it could be tablets or a gel.
Green discharge: If the discharge is green, and may be combined with vaginal irritation, chances are it’s Trichomoniasis which is an STI. This requires a call to the doctor and oral antibiotics.
Brown discharge: It could be any number of things really, from spotting to the start of your period or your body getting rid of old blood, or even a result of missing or starting a new pill. It could also be implantation bleeding, an early sign of pregnancy.
What to take away
It’s completely normal to be worried or anxious about what’s going on down there. Discharge is completely normal, unless it’s grey with a smell, or green, or you have swelling and irritation, or a burning sensation mixed with it. Then please contact your doctor ASAP.
If you notice some weird changes going on in your body, that’s ongoing, or if it causes pain during sex, then contact your doctor.
Most infections don’t really have a smell about them, except for BV — but they do have variations in colour and consistency, so it’s important to pay attention to your discharge in case of any abnormalities.
But discharge is a normal part of your body’s function and nothing we should be embarrassed about whatsoever (*note to self!), in fact I think it’s pretty cool the way our body can show us the changes it’s going through every month. Vaginas are cool.