Woman's underwear against blue background that may have STD discharge

What Do STI Discharges Look Like?

Medically reviewed by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP on November 27, 2023. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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As any woman or person assigned female at birth (AFAB) knows firsthand, vaginal discharge is a pretty common occurrence. In fact, it’s a sign—and function—of physical health: vaginal discharge helps keep the vagina clean and free of harmful pathogens.

To that end, noticing something “off” about your usual patterns may indicate your immune system is overburdened, or your body is dealing with an underlying health issue. Whether it’s an unusual odor or your discharge has a strange color, it’s important to know if it’s a sexually transmitted disease causing changes so you can get treated as soon as possible.

Importantly, noticing changes in discharge accompanied by flu-like symptoms, painful urination, or vaginal itching is a surefire sign to reach out to a healthcare provider. In the meantime, we’ll introduce you to possible causes of shifts in the look of your STD discharge so you can be more informed about all things sexual health.

What Does “Normal” Discharge Look Like?

Think of vaginal discharge as the ordinary housekeeping your vagina carries out to maintain itself and stay healthy. During this process, the cervix sheds a combination of:

  • Vaginal cells
  • Cervical mucus
  • Vaginal fluids

Together, they form a white or translucent substance: healthy vaginal discharge. But even healthy vaginal discharge goes through fluctuations over the course of the menstrual cycle and even over the course of a lifetime. [1]

For instance [1]:

  • Ovulatory vaginal discharge tends to be clear and gummy, making it easier to trap and lure sperm toward an ovulated egg.
  • When discharge is thin, opaque, or tacky, it’s usually a sign you’re outside of your fertile window.

Under healthful conditions, discharge carries little more than a mild odor, if any at all.

Moreover, it’s produced in relatively small amounts, though volume increases slightly during ovulation. That said, you may notice changes under normal or “healthy” circumstances, including:

Using an oral contraceptive – If you’re on hormonal birth control like “the pill” or “mini-pill,” you may notice a reduced amount of discharge compared with before you started taking it.

You’re pregnant– Some women experience an increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy. Toward the end of a pregnancy, it's also common for vaginal discharge to contain streaks of sticky, jelly-like pink mucus. [2]

What Does “Abnormal” Discharge Look Like?

Meanings of vaginal discharge color infographics

The first step in identifying STD discharge or STI discharge is to determine if it’s abnormal. One of the clearest signs you may need to seek out a healthcare provider is if your discharge has an unusual color, such as:

  • Yellow
  • Green
  • Brown
  • Orange

You may have heard that the gut is full of friendly bacteria. The vagina has its own ecology of bacteria known as the vaginal microflora. [3] These microflora produce lactic acid to make the vagina a less hospitable place for germs, protecting your overall reproductive health by guarding against a sexually transmitted infection. [3]

When you notice a strange color in your discharge, it’s a probable sign that your vaginal microflora balance has been disturbed. This, in part, is why some STIs can show up as changes in a woman's discharge.

3 STIs And “Abnormal” Discharge: What to Look For

Three STIs, in particular, are known to cause observable changes in what a woman’s discharge looks like. These include [4]:

  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Trichomoniasis

Let’s consider each STI vaginal discharge type and why it’s important to test and treat them as early as possible.

Trichomoniasis Vaginal Discharge

Trichomoniasis is a common sexually transmitted infection that originates with a parasite. It’s curable with antibiotics, but it can present with some uncomfortable and unpleasant symptoms. [5]

Women or people AFAB who have been infected with trichomoniasis frequently notice the following changes in their discharge [5-6]:

Color– Typically, “trich” discharge lies between plain yellow and yellow-greenish. It may also be gray, white, or even clear.

Consistency – Often, “trich” discharge can have a thin or a “frothy” texture—like it’s filled with tiny bubbles.

Odor – You may notice your discharge carries a distinct, pungent odor that many describe as “fishy.”

Volume – Many people with trichomoniasis notice a heavier discharge flow than usual, particularly as they near their menstrual cycle.

That said, if you’ve been infected with trich for a long time, you may notice mucus mixed in with your discharge.

Importantly, the CDC cautions that approximately 70% of people infected with trichomoniasis do not show any symptoms—including unusual discharge. [6] For this reason, it’s impossible to diagnose trichomoniasis solely on the basis of external symptoms: You’ll need to get tested to know whether or not a sexually transmitted disease is causing discharge disturbances.

Chlamydia: Yellow Vaginal Discharge

Chlamydia is a very common STI that’s caused by bacteria. You can transmit or contract it by engaging in a variety of sexual activities, from penetrative sex to sharing sex toys or props. [7]

It’s important to test for chlamydia if you notice any of the following changes indicative of chlamydia discharge:

Color – When chlamydia impacts vaginal discharge, you may notice it’s a yellow color.

Consistency – Sometimes, chlamydia-infected discharge contains mucus or pus.

Odor – Chlamydia-infected vaginal discharge tends to have a strong, unpleasant odor.

In up to 80% of women infected, chlamydia cases appear with no symptoms at all. However, sometimes, it can arise alongside painful urination or a burning sensation around the urethra and genitals. [8]

Left untreated, a chlamydial infection can seriously damage a woman’s reproductive system and even result in [8]:

  • Infertility
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Chronic pelvic pain

The good news is that chlamydia treatment for women is very effective. Because it’s a curable bacterial infection, the CDC recommends that women and people AFAB under 25 years old get an annual evaluation to screen for it. [8]

Private STD consultations

Gonorrhea: Yellow-Greenish Vaginal Discharge

Chlamydia and gonorrhea often appear together. Like chlamydia, gonorrhea is caused by a bacterial infection and is frequently asymptomatic. [9]

If gonorrhea shows up in your vaginal discharge, you might notice [10]:

Color – Gonorrhea discharge tends to be cloudy or opaque. Its hue typically ranges from white to yellow, but it can also be green.

Consistency – Like chlamydia, gonorrhea-infected discharges often contain mucus or pus.

Contamination – As vaginal bleeding is another symptom of gonorrhea, you might notice spotting or trace amounts of blood in your discharge (even when you aren’t menstruating).

Volume – It’s highly common to notice larger-than-normal amounts of discharge produced when you have gonorrhea.

Other Causes of “Abnormal” Discharge

While STIs can certainly cause discharge disturbances, it’s also possible your symptoms were caused by a different reproductive imbalance or infection. [11]

Each of the following conditions are likewise known to appear with changes in vaginal discharge:

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) – Gray, white, or green discharge with a thin consistency. Bacterial vaginosis discharge may also carry a strong, “fishy” odor; you may also experience vaginal itching or burning during urination. [12]

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – PID discharge tends to be heavy and foul-smelling. Discharge may also be mixed with blood if you’re experiencing bleeding between menstrual cycles. [13]

Vaginitis – Vaginitis discharge is highly variable between individuals. However, it’s common to observe significant changes in the color, smell, or volume of discharge (or all three).

Vaginal yeast infection – Yeast infections are frequently attended by a viscous discharge, often compared to having a “cottage cheese-like” texture. Yeast infection discharge usually has a white color. [14]

Finally, it’s possible to notice strange discharge or fluids if you have an object stuck in your vaginal cavity—most often, a retained tampon. If you think this may be a possibility, it’s important to monitor symptoms closely and reach out to a healthcare provider. [15]

Diagnosing, Treating, and Protecting Against STIs

Vaginal discharge disturbances can have many causes, but if you notice something is amiss, one of the best things you can do is screen for multiple common STIs. Several STIs are curable, including gonorrhea, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and syphilis. [15]

The earlier you can screen for STIs, the lower your risk of passing it on to a current or future sexual partner.

You can test for STIs from the privacy of your home with the Everlywell STI test kit, which includes a free phone consultation with a physician if you test positive for chlamydia, gonorrhea, and/or trichomoniasis.

Having one STI can often put you at risk of another infection. Because some STIs aren’t curable, the best way to avert them is through preventative measures. You can protect your sexual health by [15]:

  • Use barrier methods of contraception (like a latex condom) during sexual intercourse
  • Communicating openly with your partner about your status
  • Making regular testing a cornerstone of your health and wellness routine

Consistent testing is a key step to take in sexual well-being. While this won’t directly prevent STIs, it will let you know your status so you can get treatment before it harms your health.

Stay Up-to-Date On Your Sexual Health with Everlywell

If you notice an unusual vaginal discharge, consult with your healthcare provider so they can evaluate your signs and symptoms and provide an accurate diagnosis.

While particular STIs can lead to abnormal vaginal discharges, a reliable diagnosis requires the use of laboratory testing techniques. But that doesn’t mean you have to personally go to a lab! Why? Because you can test for STIs from the privacy of your home with the Everlywell STI female test kit—which includes a free phone consultation with a doctor if you test positive.

Give your sexual health the care it deserves by testing with our easy-to-use, at-home STI test. Or, meet with a clinician via Everlywell to receive STD treatment online.

How do you know if you have an STD? Female STD symptoms to look out for

Abnormal vaginal discharge: common causes, types, and treatments

STD vs. yeast infection: 4 differences in symptoms


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  2. NHS. Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/related-conditions/common-symptoms/vaginal-discharge/. Accessed October 24, 2023.
  3. France M;Alizadeh M;Brown S;Ma B;Ravel J; (n.d.). Towards a deeper understanding of the vaginal microbiota. Nature microbiology.
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  8. Chlamydia Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/std/chlamydia/stats.htm. Accessed October 24, 2023.
  9. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023b, April 14). Gonorrhea. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gonorrhea/symptoms-causes/syc-20351774
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  13. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (n.d.-c). Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pelvic-inflammatory-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20352594#symptoms
  14. professional, C. C. medical. (n.d.-x). Vaginal yeast infection: Causes, symptoms & treatment. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5019-vaginal-yeast-infection#symptoms-and-causes
  15. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2023k, September 8). Sexually transmitted diseases (stds). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sexually-transmitted-diseases-stds/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20351246
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