Question: Why do I have vaginal odors after a workout?

Answer: We tend to call everything “down there” the vagina, but the vagina is internal. Odors most likely emanate from the vulva, the external genitals. Where you have hair, you have sweat glands and bacteria, which can lead to unpleasant smells. Our bodies are covered with bacteria, but they really thrive in moist areas.

In this way, the vulva is similar to the armpits. If you work out and had an odor from your armpits, you wouldn’t be surprised. If you wore tight Spandex on your armpits, you would sweat and smell even more. If you think of the vulva this way, it’s natural that you would have odors. Men also have odors from the genital area after a workout.

You can lessen odor by wearing underwear made of cotton, a breathable fabric that has a natural moisture absorbing effect, instead of synthetic underwear, which can trap in heat and moisture. Try to shower immediately after a workout to wash off the bacteria that builds up from sweat. If that’s not possible, at least change out of your sweaty underwear and into a dry cotton pair. Wearing sweaty clothes for too long means your skin stays wet and traps in the moisture, which is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria.

Know that there are no powders, washes, or scented pads that prevent odors when applied before exercise. But mild soap and water should eliminate the odor after your workout.

If you develop a persistent vaginal odor or discharge, this is not due to exercising. In this scenario, you should contact your doctor as it could be a sign of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

Katherine Sherif, MD, is the chief of women’s health in the department of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.