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Sexpert: Vaginal discharge 101

<h6>The Design Team / The Daily Princetonian</h6>
The Design Team / The Daily Princetonian

My boyfriend and I had sexual intercourse for the first time. We used a condom, and one day after I showered I saw that a bit of sperm-looking liquid was coming out of my vagina, but I don’t know whether it was discharge or sperm. It was only a little bit, and it didn’t smell at all.

- Scared Spouter

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Dear Scared Spouter, 

Vaginal discharge is a topic that is often overlooked and under-discussed, especially when it comes to sex, so I’m happy to give you some more information. 

Discharge, also known as “cervical mucus,” or secretions from the vagina, occurs as a natural part of the vagina’s “self-cleaning” process and serves, in part, to remove dead cells and bacteria from the vagina. As you have probably noticed, the amount and type of discharge you have can change throughout your menstrual cycle. Typically, you may notice that your discharge is tinted brown or red towards the end of your period; clear, stretchy, and fairly thin during ovulation (about halfway through your cycle); and more white or creamy during the other times of your cycle. This is most likely the discharge you noticed after having sex with your boyfriend. This type of discharge is normal and healthy, especially if it has a mild (or no) odor, doesn’t have any chunks, and doesn’t cause your vagina any discomfort. 

During arousal, whether through masturbation or partnered sex, you probably notice more “arousal fluid” coming out of your vagina, which may be clear or white. This is simply to provide extra lubrication to your vagina and make penetration (by a toy, finger, penis, etc.) more comfortable. Many folks don’t find this secretion to be enough lubrication on its own, so adding lube is always helpful.

In general, if you notice a strong or unpleasant odor, a chunky consistency, or discomfort — such as pain, itching, or burning — associated with your vaginal discharge, this could be a sign of a bacterial or yeast infection, and would be cause for consulting your sexual healthcare provider. These infections often have causes other than sexual transmission, including the use of antibiotics or estrogen-based birth control, especially if you are consistent about practicing safer sex.

I’m glad to hear that you and your boyfriend are practicing safer sex by using a condom — that’s helpful even if you are monogamous or if you use a non-barrier method form of birth control. The best way to prevent both pregnancy and the spread of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) is the use of a contraceptive — such as a birth control pill, intrauterine device, or vaginal ring — in addition to a barrier method, such as an external or internal condom. Condoms are an effective barrier method when used properly — checking the expiration date and making sure the condom packaging isn’t compromised can offer peace of mind, as well as bolster protection against pregnancy and STIs.

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As long as your boyfriend wore a condom while ejaculating, there is almost no chance that any sperm entered your body. It is much more likely that the discharge you noticed was just natural vaginal discharge. Since the purpose of vaginal discharge is to clean the vagina, its consistency or color can change after sex, even if no semen — the fluid that carries sperm — entered the body. If any type of lubricant or spermicide was used, whether from the condom or from a bottle, it could cause a change in your discharge while your vagina cleans itself out. This could be why you noticed a possibly unfamiliar type of vaginal discharge after having sex. 

Finally, it is completely understandable to feel nervous about pregnancy or STIs even when you know that semen couldn’t have entered your vagina, especially if you are newly sexually active. The prospect of pregnancy and STIs can be scary, and it can take time to become confident in your contraceptive/protection methods, even if you know logically that they are effective.

If you have further questions or want to learn more about sexual or reproductive health in general, you can make an appointment online with a sexual health provider through MyUHS.

Sincerely,

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The Sexpert

The Sexpert is a monthly column written in collaboration between the Prospect and the Peer Health Advisers (PHA) program. For more information, you can visit the Sexpert’s website. If you are interested in submitting a question, you can send it through this form: tinyurl.com/princetonsexpert.

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