Your body is full of weird and wonderful surprises. Some of them may be (unfortunately) smelly.

While a temporary bad smell right before it’s shower time is common, a smell so strong you can smell it through your pants could indicate other causes for concern.

Keep reading for some of the reasons why you may smell yourself through your pants, and ways to treat the underlying condition.

The vagina relies on a pH balance to maintain tissue health. If infections or other changes occur, the disrupted pH balance can lead to unusual odors. The following are some examples of these potential causes.

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition that commonly affects women of childbearing age and occurs due to an overgrowth of bacteria.

Symptoms include:

  • unusual or excessive gray or white vaginal discharge
  • strong odor that may be described as “fishy”
  • itching and burning sensations in the groin.

While the condition can clear up on its own, doctors also prescribe antibiotics or antifungal medicines to reduce the infection’s effects.

Trapped tampon

Sometimes, an inserted tampon can turn sideways or the tampon string can move up into the vagina. As a result, you may forget about the tampon or have such difficulty removing it that it remains there for longer than intended.

Symptoms of a stuck tampon include:

  • discolored, foul-smelling discharge
  • pain when urinating
  • fever
  • swelling in or around the vagina.

The cervical opening is not large enough to allow a tampon to go past your vagina. But a trapped tampon can cause serious side effects, including an illness known as toxic shock syndrome.

To keep this from happening, remove the tampon with clean hands and trimmed fingernails as quickly as possible.

Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that affects an estimated 3.7 million people in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

While only one-third of people with the condition have symptoms, they include:

  • discolored vaginal discharge
  • painful urination
  • soreness around the groin area
  • unusual, fishy odor

Treatments include antifungal medications, such as metronidazole. A person can get trichomoniasis again, even if they were previously treated.

Rectovaginal fistula

A rectovaginal fistula is an abnormal connection between the rectum and vagina that causes stool and other bowel contents to leak into the vagina.

The most common cause is trauma related to childbirth that causes a third or fourth degree vaginal tear. However, a history of surgical procedures, Crohn’s disease, or cancer can cause the condition.

Symptoms include:

  • smell of intestinal gas coming from the vagina
  • abnormal bleeding
  • passage of stool through the vagina

Treatment includes treating the underlying conditions and surgical correction.

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes due to menopause can lead to the thinning of vaginal tissues, which can affect the pH balance in the vagina. This can cause an unusual, acidic smell.

While the smell doesn’t necessary require treatment, doctors can treat menopause-related vaginal atrophy with topical or oral hormones.

Cervical or vaginal cancer

Cancers of the cervix or vagina do not usually cause symptoms until their later stages. However, some people may notice:

  • unusual bleeding
  • pain during sex
  • unusual vaginal discharge that may smell foul

Treatments depend upon the cancer type and if it has spread. They may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation.

People with penises are also vulnerable to infections and other conditions that may cause unusual and strong-smelling odors. These include the following examples.

Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is a condition that causes excessive sweating. Men are especially vulnerable to this in the groin area due to testicles that can rub against their skin, creating friction, and increasing sweating. The extra sweat can attract fungus and bacteria, which leads to bad smells.

This is treated with cornstarch to absorb excess sweat, washing and drying the groin area regularly with mild soap, and wearing underwear that isn’t too tight-fitting (such as boxers). If the sweating continues, a doctor may be able to prescribe medications to treat excessive sweating.

Smegma

Smegma can occur in uncircumcised males, causing dead skin cells, fluids, and oils to build up. As a result, smegma that is thick, whitish, and has a strong odor can build up underneath the foreskin. Excess buildup can cause swelling, redness, and discomfort.

If left untreated, smegma can lead to balanitis (see below). Removing smegma involves pulling back the foreskin and cleaning gently with soap and warm water.

Balanitis

Balanitis is a condition that usually affects uncircumcised men, causing an infection and irritation in the foreskin. Symptoms include:

  • unusual discharge
  • itching
  • pain
  • tight-appearing foreskin

Some people also have problems with painful urination.

Treatments for balanitis include topical creams to reduce inflammation and itching as well as oral antibiotics or antifungals to treat the infection.

Non-gonococcal urethritis

Non-gonococcal urethritis is an inflammation of the urethra (tube where urine flows through before exiting the penis).

Common causes include chlamydia infections as well as injuries to the urethra, such as from catheter trauma. The extra presence of bacteria can cause an unpleasant smell.

Doctors will usually treat the condition with antibiotics, such as doxycycline.

Fournier’s gangrene

Fournier’s gangrene is a serious infection of the penis, perineum, or scrotum. Symptoms include:

  • fever
  • genital swelling
  • severe, foul smell coming from the groin that indicates tissue death

Treatments include antibiotics to treat the infection and surgical removal of dead tissues. If left untreated, it can prove deadly. Some people may need reconstructive surgery to treat the condition.

Some underlying causes of groin smells affect both people with penises and people with vaginas. Examples of these include the following.

Poor hygiene

Refraining from regular bathing can lead to dirt, sweat, and dead skin cell buildup that leads to strong smells through your clothes. You can reduce these effects by showering regularly and washing with mild soap and warm water.

Sweating

Sweating in the groin area can attract fungus and bacteria that can lead to a bad smell. Showering after exercise or athletic activity can help reduce the bad-smelling effects of smells related to sweating.

Putting on clean, dry clothes after a sweat session can also help. Avoid tight-fitting clothes, which will make you sweat more.

Diet

Eating some foods can temporarily affect the way your body smells. This includes the smell of your sweat or urine.

Foods that may cause strong body smells include asparagus, garlic, onion, chili, vinegar, marinated fish, and fermented milk products.

Medications

Some medications may increase the body’s likelihood to sweat, which may increase the smells in the groin area. This is true of some antidepressants, including the following:

  • duloxetine hydrochloride (Cymbalta)
  • escitalopram oxalate (Lexapro)
  • paroxetine hydrochloride (Paxil)
  • sertraline hydrochloride (Zoloft)

Talk to your doctor about possible alternate medications.

Sex

It’s not uncommon to notice that your groin smells a little unusual after sexual activity. This can be for a number of reasons.

Vigorous sex can cause sweating that increases the smell. If you or the other person has an active yeast or other infection, the smell could increase.

You don’t need to use anything special to clean your penis or vagina after sex to reduce the smell. Instead, you can just use soap and water.

Urinary tract infection (UTI)

A UTI occurs when an excess of bacteria invade the urinary tract. Symptoms can include:

  • painful urination
  • side pain
  • nausea
  • foul-smelling urine that you may be able to smell it through your clothes

Treatments for a UTI may include antibiotics, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter pain medications to reduce pain.

Urine

Sometimes, urine leaking can cause urine to build up on your underwear or skin. This can lead to a smelly groin. If you have a urinary tract infection, you may especially feel like the smell lingers.

Good hygiene practices, such as changing your underwear when wet or cleaning your groin area thoroughly with soap, warm water, and a washcloth can help.

Yeast infection

Yeast infections can affect people with penises and vaginas. They can cause a bread-like smell in the groin area as well as unusual discharge, itching, redness, and skin irritation.

Treatments may include topical antifungal ointments or oral antifungal medications. If you have recurrent infections, you should talk to a doctor about other treatments.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)

A number of STIs can lead to unusual discharge or smell in the groin. These conditions don’t always cause symptoms, which is why it’s important to get tested for STIs regularly.

Smelling yourself through your pants is rarely a medical emergency, but it’s also not typical.

If you’ve bathed recently and are wearing clean, dry clothing, it’s likely worth a visit to a doctor to talk about potential underlying causes.

Some signs you should visit a doctor sooner than later include:

  • fever greater than 101.5°F (38.6°C)
  • foul-smelling urine or discharge
  • problems urinating

If you’re pregnant and have an unusual smell coming from your groin, you’ll also want to check in with your OB-GYN or midwife.

A doctor can work through potential causes with you and recommend testing and treatments as indicated.

There are lots of reasons you may smell yourself through your pants, and most of them are very treatable. If you can’t change the smell through hygiene, talk to a doctor to determine potential treatments.