Updated: Sept 7, 2022
Written by: Rachel Harmon
Fact-Checked By: Dr. Noor Ali, MD, MPH, CPH
Vaginas are complex yet sensitive beauties. They all have their own unique look that makes them and their owner truly special. However, all vaginas can fall victim to infections. Their delicate pH balance can go all out of whack with conditions such as bacterial vaginosis (BV).
Although very common, BV doesn’t get the same spotlight like its yeasty counterpart. You may have lots of questions. What is BV? What does it feel like? Will it destroy your vagina?
Don't worry, it won’t. However, it might make things uncomfortable for a bit. Let’s dig into BV and discuss preventions and treatments to keep your vagina in tip-top shape.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Also known as gardnerella, BV is a bacterial infection of the vagina. When too much of a certain kind of bacteria grows in the vagina, BV alters its sacred balance. Essentially, the bad bacteria repopulate more quickly than the good ones, knocking your vagina’s ecosystem off balance.
BV is very common in vagina owners ages 15 to 44; even more common than yeast infections. BV is also common in pregnant women, due to the hormonal changes that take place during one’s pregnancy.
Using products, like certain soaps and detergents, that irritate your vagina’s pH balance may increase your risk of contracting BV. For example, douching and using vaginal deodorants may lead to infection. Along with properly washing your vagina, wearing anti-allergenic and anti-bacterial panties can keep your vagina healthy with the use of harsh, unwelcome chemicals.
Additionally, not using condoms and having sex with new or multiple partners may increase your risk of BV. Also, using condoms, lubes, or sex toys made of materials that you may be allergic or sensitive to can increase your risk of changing your vagina’s pH balance and causing vaginitis like BV.
Important! Having BV can increase your risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. This may be explained by the altered pH balance of the vagina and decreased amounts of mucin-degrading enzymes and increased inflammatory mediators in the vaginal ecosystem. So, it’s essential to look out for any symptoms and to take the right course of action at the right time.
Those with BV may experience a wide range of symptoms. On one end, people may not experience any symptoms at all or not notice changes in vaginal health. For others, side effects may be mild or more prevalent. Common symptoms include:
- Thin vaginal discharge of the white, gray, green, or foamy varieties
- Fish-like smell, may be strongest after sex
- Itching around the vagina
- Vaginal irritation or pain
- Burning sensation while peeing
To keep track of your vaginal health, make sure you regularly check your vaginal odor and discharge. It’s important to learn more about why vaginas smell and to check for change in odors.
Also, it’s typically recommended to change your panties once a day. Differences in odor and discharge may signal not-so-welcome changes. So start smelling, looking at, and touching your discharge every now and then. You’ll get to know your body better and may spot important changes.
Unfortunately, healthcare professionals do not fully understand the best ways to prevent bacterial vaginosis. However, the following tips may help lower your risk of getting BV. Drumroll please, for the dos and don’ts of BV prevention!
- DO use condoms or dental dams
- DO limit your number of sexual partners
- DO keep vaginal bacteria balanced. Try washing just the outside of your vagina with warm water and nothing else. Also, wipe from vagina to anus and wear panties with breathable material.
- DON’T use products that may irritate your vagina, such as douches (your vagina doesn’t need them anyway).
- DON’T wear underwear that may irritate your vagina. Instead, wear anti-allergic and anti-bacterial panties.
First and foremost, if you’re experiencing symptoms, please visit your healthcare provider to discuss your condition and to seek treatment. Typically, bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics. Healthcare providers may prescribe pills or a gel/cream to apply in your vagina. Clindamycin and metronidazole are the most common antibiotics used for BV treatment.
Make sure you take all the medicine as prescribed, even if your symptoms disappear. Also, it’s important to abstain from sex until you finish your medication and until the infection goes away. Remember, patience is a virtue.
If you have a male sex partner, they do not need to be tested or treated for BV. If you are female and have a female sex partner, then they may need to test for BV and seek treatment.
Testing for BV at a doctor’s office is similar to a Pap smear. You take off your clothes from the waist down, lie on your back, and place your feet in stirrups. Then, the doctor will use a lubricated speculum to spread your vaginal walls. Next, they will use a long cotton swab or wooden stick to collect your vaginal fluid. They will use this sample by perhaps looking at it under a microscope, analyzing it in a laboratory, or specific tests for BV.
Unfortunately, BV can return after you complete treatment. Some people's condition improves with the use of probiotics. Please discuss this option with your doctor before trying it on your own.
Healthy Vaginas For All
Bacterial infections are no fun, but they do make us pay attention and take control of our bodies. Whether you’re reading this as a precautionary measure or because you’re currently experiencing symptoms, we hope this helps. Soon enough you and your vagina will get their groove back!