Don’t you just love it when your vagina starts doing weird things? said literally no human ever. It’s apparently not enough that we have periods to deal with. Throw in a good ol’ case of the itchies and the only thought running through our head is “Can you just behave?”. The answer is no, no our vaginas cannot behave. Think about it: vaginas have to have an almost perfect balance of bacteria (wait, bacteria?! Yes, friend, all vaginas have bacteria) to function properly. When that balance gets thrown off, there are so many possibilities about what can happen down there. One of them? Bacterial Vaginosis - a mild infection of the vagina that can go away in a few days with proper treatment - or put you at risk for some more serious infections.
How on earth are we supposed to handle that? By being informed, of course. Here’s the lowdown on all things BV, so you can get diagnosed, treated, and move on with your life.
The Possible Causes of BV
Bacterial Vaginosis can be spread in a number of ways but the actual cause of the infection is an imbalance between the naturally occurring “good” and “bad” bacteria in your vagina. When your vagina’s bacterial levels are balanced, the harmful bacteria is fought off by the good. When you have more bad bacteria than good, your vagina can’t do its job of staying balanced properly. Hello, BV.
Though doctors don’t know how sex affects BV, it is more common when you’re sexually active and is more likely when you have a new sexual partner or multiple partners. The good news: BV is not a sexually transmitted infection. The not-so-good news: having BV can make you more prone to contracting an STI. If you think you might have Bacterial Vaginosis you should see a doctor right away and be sure to use protection during sex, to reduce your risk of getting an STI.
To answer a popular question about BV, no, you cannot get it from toilet seats or a swimming pool. Whew.
How Can I Tell if I Have Bacterial Vaginosis?
The honest answer to this question is that you may not be able to. About half of people who have BV don’t show any symptoms. For those who do have symptoms, they might include:
- Thin white or gray vaginal discharge
- Odor (especially a strong, fish-like scent that is more noticeable after sex)
Though these signs can all point to a case of Bacterial Vaginosis, they can also be indicative of an STI. Because of this, it’s so important to have regular Pap smears and STI tests. These things aren’t always comfortable to have done, I know, but your reproductive health is your responsibility. Having a trusted friend or family member go with you can help ease the stress.
How Do I Avoid Getting It?
There hasn’t been enough research done to understand what causes the bacteria in the vagina to get out of balance. That being said, there are some ways you can reduce your risk of getting BV:
- Don’t smoke cigarettes - smoking is anti-estrogenic which can cause your hormones to be out of balance, resulting in a higher risk of contracting BV.
- Don’t use a douche - your vagina is self-cleaning and using douches can throw your pH levels out of balance, which can increase your risk of getting BV
- Limit your number of sexual partners - Hey, I’ll never tell anyone how many people they should have sex with. You do you. But when it comes to BV, it’s been shown that having more than one sexual partner can up your risk. If you are having sex with multiple people, be sure to use protection and get tested for STI’s at least once every 6 months.
Treatment Options for Bacterial Vaginosis
Ok, so. You didn’t self-diagnose, right? I know it’s tempting but if you think you have BV, you really need to see a doctor. Remember what I said earlier about it often being confused with an STI? That’s not something you want to take a chance on. If you have seen a doctor, they will usually prescribe an antibiotic. Even if your BV goes away while you’re taking your antibiotics, make sure to finish them all. This can help prevent the infection from returning.
What Could Happen If I Don’t Get Treated?
In some cases, Bacterial Vaginosis can go away on its own. Taking this risk, however, could have serious consequences like:
- An increased chance of contracting HIV
- Delivering a baby that is underweight (if you have BV while you’re pregnant)
- An Increased chance of contracting an STI like chlamydia or gonorrhea, or even Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
Ok, before you get freaked out about all this, remember that there are plenty of options to avoid and treat Bacterial Vaginosis. You being in charge of your own reproductive health is such a wonderful thing - do right by your vagina and see a doctor if you think you might have BV or if there is anything that seems off.