Female Body Odor
Bad odors in the groin may not always be noticeable in social settings as this area is covered but can have an impact on more intimate relations. It can be embarrassing and even detract partners apart from having a social impact when it is very prominent. Understanding the causes of groin odor is important in order to take measures to counteract and prevent it from arising.
Each person naturally emits a unique body scent. This odor is primarily determined by skin secretions, bacteria on the skin and, to a lesser extent, diet and environment. Body odor typically becomes noticeable at puberty, when sweat glands known as apocrine glands become active. These glands occur primarily in the armpits and pubic area. Breakdown of aprocrine sweat by bacteria on the skin is the main source of body odor. All adults have some body odor. However, a distinctly unpleasant odor or a change in body odor arising from your pubic area might signal an infection.
The microenvironment in the groin region is relatively unique compared to other parts of the body, and shares similarities with the armpit region and feet in people who tend to wear closed shoes. It is therefore not surprising that the armpits, feet, and groin are often considered to be the smelliest parts of the human body as is the buttocks. Apart from the contribution of feces, urine, and genital secretions, there are other reasons why the groin may have a bad odor and is not related to any disease.
Firstly the groin is usually covered most if not all of the day in the majority of cultures across the globe. It probably covered more tightly than other parts of the body so that the genitals are not visible. As a results, this increases the build-up of heat in the area. This, in turn, contributes to sweat production. The hair in the area also contributes to the odor due to poor ventilation preventing the oil and sweat from evaporating. Bacteria and fungi are more likely to thrive in this warm, dark and moist environment.
Coupled with the offensive odor of feces and urine, it is therefore understandable why the groin area has an offensive odor.
Causes of Smelly Groin
Poor hygiene is probably one of the most common causes of bad groin odors. It includes:
- Infrequent bathing.
- Poor washing habits.
- Improper wiping of the genitals and anus after urination and defecation.
Menstruation can be accompanied by unusual and at times offensive odors as a result of the combination of the menses and discharge associated with hormonal changes. It may not be a significant problem with the proper sanitary pad or tampon use, including frequently changing the pads and tampon. However, it does cause a short-term alteration in groin odor for most females.
Urinary Tract Infections
Urine contributes to groin odor and when a urinary tract infection exists then the urine odor can be extremely offensive. It is due to a combination of byproducts from bacterial action and pus along with natural ammonia odor of urine. The odor is usually accompanied by a noticeable change in urinary habit, including frequent urination, burning during urination, abnormal urine color and constant urging to urinate.
Ringworm of the Groin
Fungal infections in the groin region are common. It is mainly caused by dermatophytes that have the ability to digest skin cells. These infections are superficial and typically referred to as a ringworm due to its round ring-like appearance. Sometimes yeasts may also cause an infection, especially at the folds. Apart from itching, the red rash and eventually darkening of the affected skin, there may also be a musty odor.
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Vaginal candidiasis also referred to as thrush, is a common infection of the vaginal tract. It is caused by the Candida species of yeasts. Contrary to popular belief, the discharge that is a symptom of vaginal thrush does not have an odor. However, the continuous discharge does contribute to moisture in the groin region and as a result of other factors, an offensive odor in the groin region may arise. Itching of the vagina, burning, pain, and redness are other symptoms.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacterial infection of the female reproductive organs. It usually starts at the vagina and is often a sexually transmitted infection. Eventually the infection spreads upwards to the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Vaginal discharge with an offensive odor, pelvic pain, urinary problems, irregular menstrual bleeding and fever are the main symptoms.
Diarrhea can be very messy at times and with explosive or very watery diarrhea there may be fecal particles distributed throughout the buttock and groin region. Simply wiping the anus may not suffice. Sometimes there may also be bowel incontinence, also referred to as a leaky anus. As a result these fecal particles on the skin can contribute to an offensive groin odor.
The inability to hold back urine is known as urinary incontinence. It can arise for a number of reasons including severe urinary tract infections, damage to the bladder and dysfunctional nervous control of the bladder. While in severe cases large amounts of urine in the bladder may suddenly be expelled, in many cases there are small amounts of urine passed out into the underwear during the course of the day. This contributes to bad smells in the groin region.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Sexually transmitted diseases may cause urethral or vaginal inflammation and a smelly discharge. Some like chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause an unpleasant smelling discharge. However, there are times where the discharge from lesions caused by these infections have no specific odor. The moisture may then contribute to a musty or even offensive odor. It is further complicated by any open wounds on the genital surface.
Apocrine Sweat and Body Odor
You skin has two main types of sweat glands. Eccrine sweat glands are far more numerous and occur on virtually all skin surfaces. They become functional shortly after birth and produce a clear, watery, odorless substance in relatively large amounts to cool the body when overheated. Apocrine sweat glands occur only in the armpits and pubic area, and around the nipples and navel. They do not become active until puberty and secrete small amounts of a milky, thick substance that is rich in fats.
Although apocrine sweat is odorless when secreted, bacteria normally found on the skin feed on the fats, releasing breakdown products that emit odors. This is the primary source of body odor arising from both the pubic region and the armpits.
Hair and Skin Oils
The presence of pubic hair in the genital region contributes to body odor emanating from this area for several reasons. While eccrine glands discharge their watery secretions directly onto the skin surface, apocrine glands empty into hair follicles — as do skin oil glands. The combination of apocrine sweat and skin oil, or sebum, sticks to pubic hairs. Bacteria that feed on these substances also adhere to pubic hairs. Thus, pubic hair provides a physical matrix that supports the processes that lead to body odor. The same holds true for armpit hair. People who shave their armpits generally exude less body odor. Similarly, people who trim or remove their pubic hair also usually have less body odor in their pubic area.
Yeast often normally inhabits the pubic skin of both men and women. However, a yeast infection can develop if an overgrowth occurs. This might cause an increase or change in the body odor emanating from the pubic area. Such an infection might develop in the skin folds around the genital region, causing a red, painful rash. Women are also susceptible to vaginal yeast infections. Additionally, bacterial or parasitic vaginal infections can develop and cause an increase or change genital odor.
When To Seek Medical Care
Pubic body odor is often simply the scent of being an adult woman or man. However, if you find this scent is excessive or malodorous, or if you notice a recent change, see your doctor. This is especially important if you develop a rash in your pubic area, or a change in your vaginal discharge for women.