What Does Clear Discharge From the Vagina Mean?
Vaginal discharge is made up of fluid and cells that are constantly making their way out of your vagina. This discharge acts as a natural lubricant as well as helping to protect you from infections and irritations. While a change in the color, consistency, amount or odor might mean something needs to be addressed, clear discharge tends to be completely normal.
But there's a lot of variation in vaginal discharge that's considered "normal," explained Jessica Auffant, M.D., an OB-GYN at Orlando Health in Florida.
"Discharge can be clear, white or yellow in color. Sometimes we also see variations of green, brown or blood-colored. It is a completely normal part of being a female," Auffant said.
The amount of clear discharge can also vary from person to person. You might notice you naturally make a lot of vaginal discharge or you may notice the opposite and you don't seem to make much at all. Some people may notice a slight odor, but it shouldn't be a strong smell, which could indicate an infection.
According to Auffant, discharge is influenced by different factors, from changing hormone levels, your period and sex to heat, sweat and the products you use for the vagina.
"During different times of our cycles, we have different hormonal levels," said Auffant, adding that this can lead to vaginal discharge changes. "There are times in our cycle when vaginal discharge is clear and thin, and others when it's stickier and more white in color."
What does clear discharge mean?
"Stretchy" clear discharge usually is a sign that you're ovulating. Known as egg-white cervical mucus (EWCM), this type of discharge happens around the midpoint of your cycle, when ovulation usually happens, according to Eduardo Hariton, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at the Reproductive Science Center of the San Francisco Bay Area.
According to Auffant, this EWCM allows for better sperm penetration to get pregnant and can tell you when you're at your most fertile.
After you ovulate, your vagina can go back to having less discharge and thicker discharge. However, you can have increased clear discharge depending on your body type, Auffant noted.
"Some women naturally have more [discharge] than others," Auffant said.
Several circumstances can contribute to clear discharge:
You're turned on
Clear discharge doesn't happen just because of your menstrual cycle. It also comes when you're sexually aroused in order to lubricate the vagina for penetration. This fluid is clear and slippery, but unlike the discharge for ovulation, it tends to go away within an hour.
You're on birth control
Even starting birth control pills can cause a temporary increase in clear vaginal discharge, according to StatPearls, a healthcare education resource. However, Planned Parenthood states birth control might also cause you to feel drier and have less discharge than you might usually notice.
If you're pregnant, you might notice you have more vaginal discharge than normal. Actually, this increase in discharge can be helpful in preventing infections from making their way up through the vagina and into the uterus.
However, you can still get infections when you're pregnant, so if you notice a change in the color or consistency of the discharge, or you develop other symptoms such as itching, you may want to mention this to your provider.
The bottom line is that thick, clear or whitish discharge can be normal and can happen from changes in your hormones.
"But if it's accompanied by other symptoms like itching, burning or a strong odor, it could indicate a yeast or bacterial infection," Hariton warned.
What other colors might mean
While normal vaginal discharge can vary in color and consistency, certain colors can indicate you may have an infection, according to Hariton:
- Yellow or green discharge could mean you have a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as trichomoniasis or gonorrhea.
- Gray discharge could be a bacterial infection, such as bacterial vaginosis (BV).
- Discharge that's brown or blood-tinged could mean you have a yeast or other type of infection. However, it could also be blood from your period or pregnancy.
- Red-colored discharge might be an infection, such as an STI or yeast infection, or could be due to an injury or vaginal irritation.
Monitoring your vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Get to know what's normal for your body and what your normal vaginal discharge looks like. Let your healthcare provider know if you notice changes in your discharge or you're having symptoms such as a strong odor, itching or burning.
"Monitoring your vaginal discharge is an important aspect of understanding your reproductive health," Hariton said. "It can help you identify changes in your body and when it is important to seek medical attention."