It often goes a little something like this: You’re in a little bit of a rush and perhaps tense a little too much before you feel moistness happening in your panty area.
Or perhaps someone special catches your eye, and your body stirs, but you’re also nowhere in the mindset, or space, to think about sex.
So is your vagina actually reacting to something? What exactly is it doing?
We got a few questions from our readers about wetness down there and went straight to the expert, certified sex therapist Dr. Janet Brito, for answers.
1. Why am I ‘wet’ down there, if I’m not in a sexual situation?
Even when you aren’t aware of it (such as explicit leaking wetness), your vagina produces lubrication. It’s a natural part of your physiological functioning.
The glands in your cervix and vaginal wall create essential lubrication to protect your genital area from injury or tearing, and keep your vagina clean and moist. Depending on where you are in your cycle and hormone levels, the amount of cervical fluid could vary.
Keep in mind that this fluid, or something similar, also appears during sex. But just because you see it doesn’t mean you’re turned on.
If there is lubrication, it’s your glands at work. The responsible glands for producing lubrication for sexual activity are the Bartholin glands (located to the right and left of the vaginal opening) and the Skene glands (close to the urethra).
Not in a sexual situation?
- Chances are the wetness you feel is a watery-like substance, not fluids caused by sexual arousal.
- Your genitals may feel warm, and your underwear may feel damp, moist, or soaked. You may also feel stomach cramps, depending on where you are in your cycle, or if you’re bloated.
- If you are laughing hard, sneezing, or doing some heavy lifting, you may experience stress incontinence. (Even though it is called stress incontinence, this is a physiological occurrence, not a psychological one.) This is when pressure is applied to your bladder, and you unintentionally pee in your pants.
Overall, how wet you become depends on several factors, including:
- mental health
- relationship factors
- perspiration and sweat glands
- the type of clothing you wear
- hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)
For some, the type of birth control you use may increase vaginal wetness, as estrogen tends to increase the production of vaginal fluids. If this bothers you, consider asking your doctor about an alternative birth control that has less estrogen.
Infections, like bacterial vaginosis, could cause a feeling of wetness, as the wetness helps to move bacteria out of your vaginal canal. Vaginal lubrication also increases near ovulation to increase the chances of fertilization by providing an easier passage for the sperm to travel.
2. Is it water down there? Urine? Lubrication?
It may be difficult to immediately determine what kind of fluid that’s come out, especially if it leaks out as a surprise while you’re waiting in line for coffee. For the most part, you won’t know until you’re in the bathroom, checking your underwear.
If it’s the mucus type, it could be cervical fluid (which is not what causes sexual arousal). Cervical fluid is made up of carbohydrates, proteins, and amino acids, and it is the most informative of the vaginal fluids. It changes in texture, color, and consistency, depending on your cycle and hormone levels.
Cervical fluids are a natural bodily response, but if you have fluids that are green, smelly, or have a cottage cheese texture, it is best to check with your doctor, as this could be a sign of infection.
A timeline of how cervical fluid changes
- During your period, cervical fluid may not be as noticeable, but once your period ends it may feel dry down there. After menstruation is when your cervix will produce a substance that can be mucus-like and sticky.
- As the estrogen in your body starts to increase, the consistency of your cervical fluid will go from velvety to stretchy, and feel wetter. The color will be opaque white. The cervical fluid will then look more like raw egg white. (This is also when sperm can stay alive for up to five days.)
- The higher your estrogen, the more watery your cervical fluid becomes. When your estrogen is at its highest, that’s also when you are more likely to feel your underwear at the wettest. The fluid will be the most clear and slippery. If you’re trying to get pregnant, this when you’re most fertile.
- Until the next menstrual cycle, you are likely to be dry. You will notice your period is starting again, as you begin to feel that watery fluid again, signaled by the changes in the endometrial lining.
Another type of fluid that could be down there is vaginal sweat, which comes from your sweat glands. During sexual excitement, your vaginal area swells to due increased blood flow. This vasocongestion creates a watery solution called vaginal transudate.
Stress can cause you to sweat more, including in your vaginal area. To combat this, wear breathable underwear, stay trimmed, and practice good hygiene.
A milky white secretion that’s believed to be different from other fluids is another vaginal fluid that comes from vaginal transudate and from the vaginal glands.
As mentioned earlier, the Skene glands (known informally as the female prostate) have a role in lubrication and fluids. These glands moisten the vaginal opening and produce a fluid that is known to hold antimicrobial properties that protect the urinary tract region.
The Skene glands are also known to be responsible for squirting, possibly because they are located close to the lower end of the urethra.
Unfortunately, due to lack of research on women’s sexual health, there continues to be controversy about what actually is female ejaculate and what is it made of.
Remember that everyone’s body is unique, and you may experience fluid ratios differently from others.
3. I'm wet down there, but not horny — what does that mean?
You don’t have to be sexually aroused to be wet down there. Sometimes, it’s just a common bodily response — your vagina is wet because that’s how anatomical functioning works.
This is called arousal non-concordance. It may confuse some and could feel like the body has betrayed the mind, but it’s a normal reaction.
Other situations for being wet without being horny could be due to viewing something erotic, or reading something arousing, and your body naturally becoming physiologically responsive.
Physical arousal is not consent
- It bears importance to repeat this: Just because you get wet, it does not mean you are horny. It just means your body is responding functionally. You can be in a sexual situation and wet, but it is absolutely okay and normal not to want sex. Physical arousal does not equate sexual arousal.
- Sexual arousal requires an emotional response. Wetness is not body language for consent, only an explicit “Yes” is.
Wetness may also just be your body’s way of maintaining balance. For the most part, you have nothing to worry about. If it’s not lubrication, it could be your sweat glands or where you are in your cycle.
When it comes to your sweat glands, your vulva has numerous sweat and oil glands that keep your vagina wet. In these cases, it is best to maintain your hygiene, wear panty liners, or wear cotton underwear to keep things cooler.
A new type birth control or increase in exercise may also be the reason behind your wetness.
If you are wet, and it smells fishy, rotten, or abnormal, it is best to call your doctor, as this may be a sign of other problems.
Janet Brito is an AASECT-certified sex therapist who also has a license in clinical psychology and social work. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship from the University of Minnesota Medical School, one of only a few university programs in the world dedicated to sexuality training. Currently, she’s based in Hawaii and is the founder of the Center for Sexual and Reproductive Health. Brito has been featured on many outlets, including The Huffington Post, Thrive, and Healthline. Reach out to her through her website or on Twitter.