Let’s be real. We’ve all had that moment when we’ve pulled down our pants in the bathroom, seen a different color than usual, and asked, “Is that normal?” which is often followed by questions like “Is it the time of the month?” and “What did I eat this week?” and even “How was the sex last night?”
The comforting news is that many colors are normal. Even if you know you’re in the clear, what do these colors actually mean, anyway?
Well, wonder no longer. We put together a color guide that’s not only medically accurate, but fun to look at. And even though there’s usually nothing to worry about, skip to the See a Doctor section if you’re concerned.
Here’s your Pantone guide to vaginal discharge.
Red or brown bloody discharge is normal during your period. Colors might range from cherry red at the beginning of your period to rusty brown. But if you do see red throughout the month, it could be a sign of a health issue, like an infection.
Reasons for red or brown discharge
Irregular menstrual cycle or spotting: Some women simply have irregular periods and spotting. Other women experience spotting due to their birth control method or hormonal changes.
A variety of white shades of discharge, from eggshell to cream, can be normal. Unless your discharge is accompanied by certain textures or smells, don’t fret too much.
Reasons for white discharge
Vaginal lubrication: White discharge occurs for many of the same reasons as clear discharge. It’s simply natural lubrication, keeping your vaginal tissue healthy and minimizing friction during sex.
Very light yellow discharge is more normal than you think. Sometimes the color is daffodil yellow. Other times it’s more of a greener chartreuse.
Reasons for yellow-green discharge
Look to your diet or any supplements you may be taking: This color is usually a sign of an infection, but if you know you’re in the clear (as in it’s a one-off occurrence), what you eat could affect the color. Some people report this color change occurring whenever they take new vitamins or try certain foods.
Pink discharge, ranging from a very light blush to the deep pink of a sunset, is often just a sign of the beginning of your cycle. But at other times, it can be a sign of a serious health problem.
Reasons for pink discharge
Sexual intercourse: Some women may periodically experience light bleeding after intercourse, which can result in pink discharge.
Clear discharge, which can also be whitish in color, is usually normal. It may have an egg-white like consistency. It’s also the go-to discharge a healthy body expels to rebalance itself — because your vagina is an amazing, self-cleaning organ.
Reasons for clear discharge
Ovulation: Is it about day 14 of your cycle? You’re probably ovulating and producing cervical mucus.
Pregnancy: Pregnancy can also cause a change in hormones and increase how much discharge you have.
Sexual arousal: The blood vessels in your vagina dilate and fluid passes through them, causing an increase in clear, watery discharge. Totally normal.
When white turns to gray, like storm clouds or exhaust, see your doctor or call your OB-GYN. It could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is a very common infection in women. Your doctor will likely prescribe antibacterial ointments or oral antibiotics.
If you’re worried about your discharge color, amount, or other symptoms, your body is pretty good at letting you know. It’ll send some pretty specific cues like itching, pain, and burning during urination to tell you to get a downstairs checkup.
Make an appointment with your doctor anytime your discharge is accompanied by these symptoms or signs:
- burning sensation while you pee
- a strong, foul odor
- frothy texture
- thick, cottage cheese texture
- vaginal bleeding
- gray in color
- bleeding that’s unrelated to your period
Here’s what the potential medical issues may be for each color:
|hormone imbalance||yeast infection||gonorrhea or chlamydia||vaginal infection||cervical||bacterial vaginosis (BV)|
|bacterial vaginosis (BV)||trichomoniasis||cancer (cervical, uterine)|
|desquamative inflammatory vaginitis (DIV)|
Sometimes these issues — like gonorrhea or chlamydia — can be eliminated based on your situation if you’ve never had sex. It’s always a good idea to get a checkup if you can’t pinpoint a cause or seem unsure of your health status.
You might not always think of it this way, but vaginal discharge is pretty amazing. Healthy discharge keeps the vagina clean, wards off infections, and provides lubrication. It changes with your body’s needs. For example, discharge increases during sex to prevent discomfort and irritation and thickens during ovulation to help sperm on their journey to the egg.
It’s also important to keep in mind that a range of shades and amounts of vaginal discharge is considered normal and varies from person to person. That’s why we created this color guide to show you how wild this range can get.
But your vaginal discharge is also a reflection of your health. Watch for discharge that occurs unexpectedly, which can be a sign of infection or disease. If your discharge changes significantly in color, consistency, amount, or smell, you might want to schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. Likewise, if your discharge is accompanied with an itch or pelvic pain, it’s time to see your doctor.
Sarah Aswell is a freelance writer who lives in Missoula, Montana, with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has appeared in publications that include The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, and Reductress.