Are You Wet or Is It Discharge?
So, you've noticed your undies aren't quite dry, but you know it's not your time of the month. Plus, you don't have a tampon on you. Oh god, did you pee yourself? After looking down, you realize you're probably just wet—or is it discharge? Are you horny? Is something wrong?
No need to jump into the bed too quickly if you notice discharge—it doesn't automatically mean you're turned on. (But, also, who am I to judge if you want to have a hot sex session anyway.)
An expert clears up what is exactly going on between our legs and how we can distinguish the difference between discharge and being wet.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
"Normal vaginal secretions—wetness—are a part of keeping the vagina healthy, both during sexual activity and normal day-to-day life," said Alexandra Stockwell, M.D., an intimate marriage expert based in San Francisco. "Normal secretions also indicate hormonal levels in menstruating [people]."
The wetness helps by keeping you clean in general and comfortable during sex.
"Normal vaginal secretions clear out bacteria and old cells and keep the membranes moist. During arousal, the Bartholin glands on either side of the vagina create secretions, which are essential to comfort and pleasure during sexual activity," Stockwell said.
"If a [person with a vagina] tends to have little secretions with arousal, be sure to use a good lube because the wetness is essential to experience pleasure, avoid tears and infection and maintain vaginal health," she continued.
Stockwell described what this general "wetness" should look like.
"The secretions can be a little or a lot in quantity, and they can be clear fluid all the way to an opaque milky white color," she said. "They are equivalent to saliva in making the area moist, lubricated and healthy."
If you're still feeling icky, Stockwell wants to reassure you.
"With normal vaginal discharge, such as wetness or secretions, the most important thing is to realize it's normal," she said. "Needing to change panties during the day can be necessary and is no cause for concern."
How is discharge different from just being wet?
Here's the gist on discharge: Not all of it is healthy.
"Pathogenic vaginal discharge, on the other hand, is a sign of infection and deserves attention and often medication," Stockwell said. "The main causes are bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection or an STI—though not all STIs cause discharge."
The sexually transmitted infections causing vaginal discharge are candidiasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis.
Not sure how to spot abnormal discharge? Check the color.
"The main way to identify pathogenic discharge is by color: gray, green or yellow-brown," Stockwell said.
Pay attention to the smell and consistency of the discharge, as well.
"The smell is unpleasant and fishy-smelling or metallic," Stockwell said. "The amount of fluid with a pathogenic discharge is highly variable, as is the consistency."
She explained paying attention to the appearance of your day-to-day wetness can help: "It is easiest to identify if [you are] aware of [your] usual secretions, and then notice the difference."
People between the ages of 23 and 33 tend to have abnormal discharge the most, according to a 2017 study in the Indian Journal of Sexually Transmitted Diseases and AIDS.
If you do notice a difference, don't wait to hit up your doctor.
"When it comes to pathogenic discharge, it is key to get treatment at the earliest possible time to avoid long-term consequences, which vary from nonexistent to a chance of infertility," Stockwell said.
And remember: Being wet often is normal and usually not a reason to be concerned—even if we hear otherwise in society and popular media.
"The amount of normal vaginal secretions is never represented in porn, media, medical information pamphlets or anywhere else [people] might encounter it," Stockwell said. "As long as there is no pain or no irregular smell, there is no reason for concern based on the amount of wetness experienced."
Don't have a doctor you see regularly? You should. Fortunately, telehealth makes it easy to connect with a doctor who can answer your questions and evaluate your situation. Many physicians offer video visits, which are a good way to see a doctor quickly since a lot of them have same-day appointments. Giddy Telehealth is an easy-to-use online portal that provides access to hundreds of healthcare professionals whose expertise covers the full scope of medical care, including men's health.