The vagina is a mucous membrane, which means that the skin and tissue of a healthy vagina are always moist. Many factors can affect how much fluid the vagina produces.
Typically, the inside of the vagina feels slightly wet. Hormonal swings, fertility status, and arousal can change the amount, consistency, and color of a person's vaginal fluids. The vagina may feel very wet during arousal, while menopause can cause vaginal dryness.
Vaginal fluids are essential for keeping the vagina healthy and for making sexual activity comfortable. However some people feel anxiety about their vaginal fluids. Knowing what the fluids are, their function, and what is normal can help ease a person's worries.
Most forms of vaginal wetness come from one of two places:
- Bartholin glands
- the cervix
Bartholin glands are two small, pea-sized glands located just inside the vagina. They help lubricate the vagina to prevent excessive dryness. They also produce moisture when a female feels aroused, and during sexual activity.
The cervix produces mucus throughout a person's menstrual cycle. As ovulation approaches, the cervix produces more fluid. This fertile cervical mucus can help sperm travel to the egg, increasing the odds of pregnancy.
The most common causes of vaginal wetness include:
Everyday vaginal fluids
A normal, healthy vagina is slightly moist. On average, healthy females produce 1–4 milliliters (ml) of vaginal fluid in a day. According to Dr. Jen Gunter, an obstetrician-gynecologist, a very large, thick streak of vaginal fluid contains about 1 ml.
The amount of discharge a healthy person secretes may change from day-to-day, and both Bartholin glands and the cervix produce various fluids that can change over time. As ovulation approaches, a person might notice more vaginal wetness since the cervix increases fluid production at this time.
When a female feels sexually aroused, the Bartholin glands produce more fluid. This fluid helps lubricate the vagina during sexual activity, decreasing the risk of painful friction and injuries. Some people notice that their vagina becomes lubricated during sex even if they do not feel aroused.
The lubrication typically lingers even after a person finishes having sex or no longer feels aroused. It is normal for the vagina to feel wet for an hour or two after sex or arousal.
As females age, they may notice an increase in vaginal dryness. After menopause, the body produces less estrogen, making it more difficult to keep the vagina lubricated. The walls of the vagina also become thinner, which can make vaginal dryness painful.
Higher estrogen levels can increase vaginal wetness by causing the Bartholin glands to produce more fluid. People on hormone treatments, such as those taking hormone replacement therapy, may notice an increase in vaginal wetness.
Some people use vaginal estrogen to increase vaginal wetness. A 2018 study found that this practice is no more effective than using traditional lubricants. So for people who prefer to avoid estrogen treatments, vaginal lubricants may work just as well.
When vaginal fluid changes or a person produces significantly more vaginal fluid than normal, it may be a sign of an infection.
A yeast infection causes thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge. The vagina may itch, burn, or feel very sore and dry, and sex can be very painful.
A yeast infection is a fungal infection. In most cases, over-the-counter (OTC) antifungal yeast infection medicine can treat it. Antibiotics will not help and may even make the infection worse.
Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial imbalance of the vagina. Some people have no symptoms, but others notice itching or burning. The vagina may produce a white, gray, or yellow fluid that smells fishy. The smell is sometimes worse after sex.
Trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that may cause a yellowish or greenish discharge. Sometimes the discharge looks bubbly and may smell bad, especially after a menstrual period. The vagina sometimes itches or burns.
Sometimes, the Bartholin glands become obstructed and can form painful cysts. A person who has a tender, painful swelling just inside the vagina may have a Bartholin gland cyst. Many go away on their own, but if the cyst grows large or does not heal, a doctor can drain it.
Vaginal fluid has many components, including:
- Water: Vaginal fluid is more than 90% water.
- Salts: Vaginal fluid is about 1% salts, including sodium chloride, calcium, and phosphate.
- Organic compounds: This includes amino acids, lipids, and glycogen.
- Old cells: The cells that line the vagina, uterus, and cervix regularly slough off and leave the body through the vaginal fluid.
- Antibodies: The vaginal fluid may contain antibodies that reduce the risk of some infections.
Vaginal fluid can appear a range of colors, including creamy, pink, yellowish, and gray. These colors have different meanings. Read Medical News Today's color coded guide to vaginal discharge to find out more.
Vaginal wetness that causes no other symptoms is not usually a problem. Vaginal fluid is a sign of a healthy vagina and a sign that the body is working well.
Some symptoms that warrant a trip to the doctor include:
- vaginal dryness that lasts more than a few days
- vaginal discharge that smells bad
- itching, burning, or other vaginal pain
- a change in the vaginal discharge after sex with a new partner
- swelling in the vagina
- changes in vaginal fluid associated with a new medication, such as birth control or estrogen replacement therapy
- unexplained vaginal pain or sensitivity
Many people worry about their vaginal fluids for a variety of reasons. However, vaginal wetness is normal and healthy. It supports fertility, makes sexual activity more comfortable, and can prevent vaginal pain.
Vaginal wetness in the absence of other symptoms is normal. People who worry they produce too much vaginal fluid may not be aware of how much fluid the body produces. When in doubt, see a doctor midwife who can offer reassurance and assess whether there is an underlying issue in need of treatment.