People With Penises Who Do This One Thing During Sex Can Leave Your Vagina Smelling ~Fishy~, According To This Expert

Today, we're discussing two things that no one ever wants to hear in the same sentence: VAGINAS and FISH SMELLS.

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Dr. Jolene Brighten has gone viral for sharing that ~fishy~ vagina smells may come from semen entering the vagina during intercourse. "Vaginal smells after sex: Is it him or me? There's something he's doing when he makes those deposits that can cause the odor. Vaginas should be slightly acidic, but semen is alkaline," she starts in her TikTok, which has over 3 million views.

A person with curly hair wearing a tank top is seen with a caption reading, "Q: Vaginal Smells After Seggs Is It Him or Is It Me?"
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"So, when the semen gets introduced into the vagina, it can actually shift the pH and allow organisms like Gardnerella, which causes bacterial vaginosis (BV), to overgrow. And those bacteria cause a fish-like odor. So, it's technically not you — it is bacteria making that smell, and it's not your fault... It's his."

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TL;DR: If a person with a penis cums inside you during sex, their high-alkaline semen can disrupt the pH of your acidic vagina and cause FISHY FUNK.

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Dr. Brighten's video allowed people to connect the dots in many different ways:

Shyanna's post reads, "5 years with my toxic ex and I always smelled after we had seggs and he always accused me of cheating. Never happened with previous partners."
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Some also pointed out that it is yet another example of things some medical professionals say are the woman's "fault" or "problem" when they are not:

Amber's post reads: "Funny thing, Doctors don’t recommend treatment for him, for this.... So, it may not be 'our fault' but it’s treated as if it is...."
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And people who were currently experiencing unpleasant smells after sex wanted to know what they could do to prevent it:

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So, we got in touch with Dr. Brighten to get more clarity on the issue. She is a board-certified naturopathic endocrinologist, and a certified sexuality counselor.

Closeup of Dr. Jolene Brighten
Dr. Brighten

First off, Dr. Brighten wants to reassure people that vaginas shouldn't smell like anything other than a vagina — which isn't a fruity or ~summer breeze~ smell. "Your vagina has its own signature scent as it also contains pheromones, which are natural chemicals your body creates that others can detect."

A person wearing white underwear holds a white calla lily flower in front of their pelvic area
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However, there are some cases where an imbalance of organisms can lead to fish-like or foul vaginal odor, which is not normal, according to Dr. Brighten. "When you’re on your period, you may detect a metallic smell due to the iron in menstrual blood. If you are smelling something that is reminiscent of bread rising, it may point to yeast overgrowth, which can occur at the beginning of a yeast infection. If a tampon or condom is left behind, that can contribute to a 'rotten' odor, which isn’t you, but rather the proliferation of organisms around these items," she shared.

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In addition, your sweat glands can also create vaginal odor. The vulva contains two sweat glands called eccrine glands and apocrine glands. The eccrine glands produce mostly odor-free moisture, and apocrine glands may produce smellier, oilier sweat — and can cause vaginal odor to smell like B.O. "If you experience the 'twaco' phenomenon where you are getting a hint of tacos or Mexican food from down there, it’s likely stemming from your sweat glands and not your vagina. If you’re eating all the ingredients of fajitas in heavy amounts and then sweating, the bacteria that normally inhabit your groin can consume your sweat and put off this odor," Dr. Brighten stated.

Cartoon taco with a mustache, wide eyes, and a slight smile. The taco is filled with lettuce, tomatoes, and onions, with steam rising from it

When it comes to people who experience an unwanted fishy smell after sex, Dr. Brighten reiterated what she said in her TikTok — that it can be from a pH imbalance caused by sperm entering the vagina. "Again, the vagina is acidic, and this pH maintains a delicate balance of organisms that grow there. Semen is alkaline, which means it can disrupt the pH of the vagina and create an environment where bacteria that cause the fish odor can overgrow," she further explained.

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"Semen needs to be alkaline for sperm to survive, so this is normal. But smoking, heavy alcohol use, and eating lots of asparagus or garlic can contribute to semen having an odor and flavor that is 'off' or, as Samantha from Sex and the City put it, 'funky spunk.'"

Here are three things you can do to prevent a fish-like smell from happening after sex:

1.Use condoms. Not only do condoms prevent STIs but they act as a barrier between genitals, meaning no sperm can enter the vagina to throw off your pH in the first place!

A person holding an unopened condom packet in their hand, sitting on a bed

2.Avoid harsh chemicals and don't douche because it can make things worse! "There is no safe way to clean the vagina without potentially disrupting the microbiome or causing an infection to go deeper into the pelvis. The vulva, which is external, can be safely cleaned with warm water and a clean washcloth. You can also use a gentle cleanser, but it is not necessary," said Dr. Brighten.

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She added, "Since the inner thigh or groin area contains apocrine glands (the same sweat glands that exist in your armpit), most people benefit from using gentle cleansers in this area."

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3.Talk to your doctor about other options. Some research suggests that probiotics may help keep the pH of your vagina in balance. However, there is no conclusive evidence that they are effective at preventing or treating pH imbalance.

Person holding two pH testing strips, one green and one yellow, near their waist, wearing black underwear and a white top

In addition, Dr. Brighten said you can talk to your doctor about at-home vaginal pH strips and at-home semen analysis kits.

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In conclusion, if you're experiencing a fish-like or bad vaginal odor after sex, it could be from your partner's semen throwing off the pH of your vagina. However, because bad vaginal odor can also be caused by STIs or other infections, it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor either way. Oh, and if your partner's semen is just "funky spunk" smelling, encourage them to analyze their diet — and talk to their doctor as well!

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Special thanks to Dr. Brighten for her professional insight! You can follow her on TikTok, YouTube, and Instagram.