Help! My Vaginal Discharge Bleached My Underwear
First things first: Vaginal discharge is extremely normal. Some women have discharge every day, while others experience it less frequently. Factors including estrogen levels, where you're at in your menstrual cycle, birth control, sexual activity, stress and even diet can all affect how often you produce discharge. Additionally, discharge can vary in consistency, odor, color and amount.
One complaint made by many women is discharge staining their underwear—also referred to as the "bleaching phenomenon."
In her recent TikTok video that's been viewed more than 2 million times, Jen Gunter, M.D., OB-GYN and author of "The Vagina Bible," explained how discharge can bleach underwear, particularly if the underwear is black, and showed her own discharge-stained underwear.
Reply to @catriena.martel Do you need to wear underwear? Nope. Factors to consider are menstruation, comfort, and vaginal discharge #gynecology♬ original sound - jennifer gunter
What causes vaginal discharge?
To understand why staining happens, you first have to understand what vaginal discharge is and the role it has in a woman's menstrual cycle.
"Vaginal discharge is a mixture of fluid and mucous secretions from the cervix [neck of the uterus] and vaginal mucosa," said Narendra Pisal, M.R.C.O.G., consultant gynecologist at London Gynaecology. "Normal physiological vaginal discharge that is not itchy or irritant is a good thing, as it cleanses the vagina."
"The vagina, as we know, is self-cleansing. So part of the way that it cleanses itself is by emitting discharge," added Tamika K. Cross, M.D., F.A.C.O.G., author of "What a Doctor Looks Like."
Vaginal discharge varies throughout the menstrual cycle due to hormonal fluctuations. This is why many women notice an increase or a change in discharge before and after their period. In the days leading up to ovulation, levels of estrogen rise, resulting in a greater amount of discharge. Typically, this discharge will be white or cloudy in color and it can be either slippery or thicker in consistency.
Vaginal discharge is important because it prevents unwanted bacteria from entering the vagina and causing an infection. Furthermore, vaginal discharge plays an important role in conception, because it allows sperm to enter the uterus and fertilize the egg.
Why does discharge stain underwear, and should I be concerned?
Vaginal discharge is naturally acidic, which helps protect the vagina against bacterial and fungal infections. This is great, but Pisal explained that the acidity can interact with the dye in your underwear and cause bleaching or staining.
In most cases, you'll notice a white bleach spot, but it's not uncommon to see light yellow staining, which occurs when the discharge is exposed to air. This is rarely a cause for concern unless you've also noticed a change in the odor or texture of your discharge (other than the normal changes that occur throughout your cycle).
'It's important that women recognize and make the distinction between normal and abnormal discharge.'
Your vaginal discharge can tell you a lot about your health, so it's important to be on the lookout for any changes in appearance, texture or odor. If you suddenly notice anything out of the ordinary, contact your doctor to rule out the possibility of infection.
"It's totally normal to have discharge, but it's really the abnormal discharge that can be problematic," Cross said. "So it's important that women recognize and make the distinction between normal and abnormal discharge.
"They should be concerned if they're smelling irritating or unusual odors, [experiencing] itching, or it's a different texture, consistency or a different color; that's when you get concerned and that can be a sign of infection," she concluded.
How to prevent bleaching and staining
Luckily, many convenient and affordable ways are available to prevent underwear staining, so you can avoid frequently replacing your underwear and enjoy them for a much longer time.
One of the best options is to use panty liners. These are thin yet highly absorbent pads specifically designed to soak up vaginal discharge and prevent staining.
The most unpleasant part about vaginal discharge is it can leave you feeling wet and uncomfortable throughout the day, but panty liners prevent this discomfort because they act as a barrier. For women who are prone to excessive sweating, regularly using a panty liner can keep you feeling fresh and dry.
Another option is to keep in mind where you're at in your cycle when you pick your underwear for the day—avoid dark colors if you're experiencing a lot of discharge.
"If the bleaching bothers you, hopefully you will be reassured knowing it isn't a sign of a health concern, it's normal," Gunter wrote in her blog.
"If you are still bothered, options are looking for white cotton in the gusset (although blood stains are more visible, a consideration for those who menstruate) or wearing a synthetic fabric," she continued. "As an aside, modern synthetics aren't a cause of vaginal yeast infections. Another option is of course to go commando and wear no underwear at all!"