Have you ever noticed fabric discoloration in the crotch of a clean pair of your underwear? The gusset – which just so happens to be the area of your undies that vaginal discharge typically touches or dries on to- might have even looked like it had been bleached or lightened.
So, to find out if vaginal discharge is responsible for this discoloration that some people experience and if it’s ever something to be worried about, we reached out to a few knowledgeable experts. Ahead, their theories and thoughts.
According to Amy Roskin, MD, JD, a board-certified ob-gyn and The Pill Club’s chief medical officer, underwear fabric discoloration isn’t generally the sign of a medical issue – but, it could be representative of the normal, mildly acidic pH of the vagina. This typically ranges from 3.8 to 4.2.
“Sometimes a normal or ‘physiologic’ vaginal discharge can also be mildly acidic, and so [it] can cause this bleaching effect,” Dr. Roskin confirmed.
However, she also added that every individual is different, so not everyone actually experiences this phenomenon. You may even have friends who have said they can’t relate.
It’s also important to remember that vagina, and therefore vaginal discharge, isn’t always mildly acidic. “Vaginal discharge can result from a variety of causes,” Dr. Roskin explained. “For example, a vaginal infection called ‘bacterial vaginosis’ [BV] can occur in and cause a more alkaline vaginal environment. So, the discharge in that case would not be acidic.”
Anna Cabeca, DO, a triple-board certified ob-gyn and the author of The Hormone Fix, also mentioned that the vagina’s environment has “a spectrum.” For example, she said that sometimes it’s very acidic, like in the instance of a yeast infection, and that, too, could cause discoloration on clothing.
Before you blame this discoloration situation on your discharge, know that some experts have other theories.
Alyssa Dweck, MD, a practicing gynecologist in Westchester County, New York, host of the podcast Business of the V, and INTIMINA’s sexual and reproductive health expert, proposes that underwear fabric discoloration is more likely due to washing.
“It’s possible that products people use cause alternation in [the] vaginal pH/biome, and leakage of these disruptors is causing staining,” she added.
Regardless, if you’re noticing anything different or concerning about your vaginal discharge, reach out to your doctor for advice. Sometimes, discharge can tell us about things going on in our bodies.
“People with vaginas are usually familiar with the amount and quality of discharge normal for them,” Dr. Dweck added. “Discharge can vary during the cycle and with any hormonal birth control. A foul smelling, persistent, itchy/irritating, or bloody discharge could be a sign of infection such as BV, yeast, or STI and should be checked into.”
She added that abnormal discharge can also be a signifier of structural issues, a lost tampon or condom, abnormal cervix cells, and in rare cases, certain cancers.