Discharge refers to a mixture of fluids that comes out of the vagina or penis. People may notice discharge before, during, or after sexual intercourse.
Some vaginal and penile discharge can be expected, and there is no standard quantity of either.
In a male, healthy penile discharge is either preejaculate or ejaculate.
Certain factors can influence the amount and appearance of discharge. The consistency of vaginal discharge, for example, naturally changes throughout the menstrual cycle.
However, some changes in discharge can indicate a health problem.
This article will look at possible causes of discharge after sex.
Healthy vaginal discharge is a clear or white fluid that contains cervical mucus, vaginal fluid, and cell debris.
Some changes in the quantity or appearance of vaginal discharge may occur naturally, while others may indicate an underlying health condition.
This section describes some common causes of vaginal discharge after sex.
Sexual arousal stimulates an increase in blood flow to the genitals. The blood vessels expand to accommodate the elevated blood supply.
In females, this causes swelling in the labia, clitoris, and the tissues lining the vagina. Also, glands in the vagina secrete a clear, watery fluid that helps lubricate the vagina during sex.
The presence of this arousal fluid may make vaginal discharge more noticeable. The discharge may become thicker and have a clear or milky white appearance.
This type of vaginal discharge is normal and does not indicate an underlying medical condition. However, if thicker discharge has a foul smell, it can indicate a health problem.
During sex, a female may ejaculate. This involves expelling fluid through the urethra.
According to a 2013 systematic review, scientists are unsure exactly how many females ejaculate, but they estimate a prevalence of 10–54%.
In those who do experience it, female ejaculation is a healthy and natural occurrence.
Menstrual cycle changes
The hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout the menstrual cycle change the quantity and appearance of vaginal discharge.
At the beginning and end of the menstrual cycle, the discharge may be thick and white. During ovulation, it may be clear and stretchy.
At other times throughout the cycle, discharge may be clear and watery.
Toward the end of the menstrual cycle, old blood may be present in the discharge, giving it a brown color.
All of this is normal and not a cause for concern.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) can make discharge after sex more noticeable. It occurs when the pH of the vagina changes, disrupting the healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Having a new sexual partner, multiple partners, or regularly douching can each increase the risk of developing BV.
BV can cause discharge to be off-white or gray and have a strong fishy odor. It may be easier to identify BV discharge after sex.
Other symptoms of BV include:
- an itching or burning sensation in the vagina
- an itching or burning sensation around the vulva
- painful urination
A doctor will perform a physical examination of the vagina and analyze a sample of vaginal discharge for signs of bacterial overgrowth.
Some people do not need treatment for BV, but when a person experiences symptoms, they may need antibiotic treatment.
Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), untreated BV can increase a person’s risk of:
- pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID
White, clumpy vaginal discharge during or after sex can indicate a yeast infection.
Yeast infections occur when Candida fungus grows too quickly in affected parts of the body. Candida naturally lives in the mouth, throat, gut, vagina, and the surface of the skin.
Up to 75% of women develop at least one vaginal yeast infection during their lifetimes.
The following factors can increase the risk of a yeast infection:
- uncontrolled diabetes
- use of estrogen-dominant birth control
- recent use of antibiotics
- a weakened immune system
- use of douches or other vaginal hygiene products
Yeast infections cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- itchiness in or around the vagina
- swelling, redness, and soreness of the vulva and vagina
- pain while having sex or urinating
- an odorless, white vaginal discharge that looks similar to cottage cheese
Penile discharge refers to any fluid other than urine that passes through the urethra.
Healthy penile discharge includes preejaculate and ejaculate, which occur during sexual arousal and intercourse.
Having penile discharge unrelated to sexual stimulation may indicate an underlying health condition.
During sexual stimulation, the bulbourethral glands — located below the prostate — produce a thick, clear mucus known as preejaculatory fluid.
Preejaculatory fluid acts as a natural lubricant for the tip of the penis during intercourse. It also neutralizes the acidity of the male urethra and the vagina.
Ejaculate, or semen, is a white, cloudy fluid that contains seminal fluid and sperm cells.
Ejaculation typically occurs during orgasm.
Urethritis refers to inflammation of the urethra. Causes include bacterial and viral infections, as well as injuries and exposure to chemicals.
Urethritis can cause cloudy or white penile discharge.
Other symptoms include:
- a burning sensation while urinating
- frequent urination
- itching, swelling, or soreness in the penis and urethral opening
- enlarged lymph nodes in and around the groin
- pain during intercourse or ejaculation
- blood in the urine or semen
A doctor will look for tenderness, swelling, and enlarged lymph nodes in the abdomen and groin. They may also collect samples of urine and discharge, which they send to a laboratory for further analysis.
Doctors use antibiotics to treat bacterial urethritis.
People who develop urethritis as a result of an injury or exposure to chemicals should avoid vigorous sex and any chemical products that contain irritating substances.
Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) spread as a result of unprotected sexual activity.
Certain STIs, including chlamydia and gonorrhea, can cause unusual penile and vaginal discharge.
Chlamydia is one of the most common STIs. People affected tend to be between 15 and 24 years of age.
Chlamydia is typically asymptomatic. If symptoms do appear, they may only become noticeable a few days to several weeks after the person contracted the infection.
Vaginal discharge may appear yellow. Other chlamydia symptoms in females include:
- rectal bleeding, pain, or discharge
- painful urination
- vaginal bleeding
Penile discharge may be watery and appear white or cloudy.
Other symptoms of chlamydia include:
- symptoms of urethritis
- pelvic or abdominal pain
- difficult or painful urination
- pain, tenderness, and swelling in one testicle
Gonorrhea is another STI. It involves an infection of Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria.
About 1.14 million new gonorrhea infections occur each year in the United States.
Gonorrhea can cause white, yellow, or green penile discharge or an increased amount of vaginal discharge.
Other symptoms of gonorrhea include:
- difficult or painful urination
- pain or tenderness in the testicles or scrotum
- urinary tract infection symptoms
- bleeding between periods
Doctors can diagnose chlamydia and gonorrhea by examining cell cultures obtained from vaginal or urethral swabs.
Doctors can treat chlamydia and gonorrhea with antibiotics.
People who have received an STI diagnosis should inform recent sexual partners, so that they can get tested.
People should also avoid vaginal, anal, and oral sex until they complete treatment. This will help prevent reinfection and reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other people.
A person should consult a doctor if they notice any discharge that looks or smells unusual. Foul-smelling discharge indicates the need for medical care.
White, grey, yellow, or green discharge may indicate an infection.
A male may benefit from medical care if penile discharge accompanies any of the following:
- pain while urinating or having sex
- painful ejaculation
- penile discharge that occurs outside of sexual stimulation
- itching or burning of the urethra, vagina, or vulva
- pain or tenderness of the testicles or scrotum
- abdominal or pelvic pain
In females, healthy discharge after sex contains a mixture of cervical mucus and vaginal fluid. In males, it may contain seminal fluid and sperm.
People may notice more vaginal or penile discharge during arousal.
Penile discharge typically occurs during sexual activity, while vaginal discharge tends to be continual and change throughout the menstrual cycle.
If any vaginal or penile discharge is foul-smelling or unusually colored, see a doctor. These symptoms can indicate an underlying health condition, such as BV, a yeast infection, or an STI.