What Exactly is Bacterial Vaginosis- And Why Haven't I Heard Of It?

By Emma Elizabeth

About three months ago, something didn’t feel quite right. I’d describe it as itchy, and things also didn't look “normal”. I was confused, mostly because I wasn’t having sex.

In the age of Google WebMD, I typed in some symptoms, and bacterial vaginosis came right on up. I had never heard of it before, but after more research, and reaching out to my Gynecologist friend, she advised me to check with a doctor. 

Three days later, legs up in stirrups, all he had to do was take a look inside: “yep. BV”. 

I asked him how this happened since I wasn’t having sex, and also how he could simply peek inside and know. While not overly helpful or descriptive, he explained that my PH level probably became unbalanced and the BV developed (a common cause), and that my vaginal lining was irritated, which is a key indicator of BV. He also said my discharge “didn’t look good”. Nice. 

Itchy? Discharge Looking Off? It Might Be BV 

Bacterial vaginosis is not an STI or STD.

It is a "mild infection of the vagina caused by bacteria". Basically, the balance between the good and bad bacteria in your vagina goes out of whack, and the bad bacteria overtakes the good stuff. This leads to itchiness, a burning sensation (particularly when you pee), fishy smelling discharge, or discolored discharge (white, grey, or green).  

The truth is that many women will develop BV at some point in their lives, but the symptoms will usually come and go without treatment. But when the symptoms persist, it’s time to hit the doctor’s office. They’ll likely do a pelvic exam, and take a sample of the vaginal discharge and test for certain bacteria (or look under a microscope for them).

If you have BV, congratulations on joining the 30% of women who will develop it at some point in their lives!  

You’ll be prescribed oral and/or vaginal antibiotics

BV is More Common Than Yeast Infections 

When it comes to vaginal itchiness, there’s a lot of focus on yeast infections. In fact, I had never heard of bacterial vaginosis. I only recently saw one ad for BV medication, which doesn’t make sense, given that it’s the most common vaginal infection in women ages 15-44

While men do not need to be treated, this is yet another fun infection that only affects and spreads to women. So if you’re currently having sex with a female partner, she should also see a doctor stat.  

Can You Prevent It? 

In short, probably not. Mostly because it’s still unclear what causes it. The CDC says while you can’t get it from toilet seats, bedding or pools, it might help if you avoid sex (no thanks), limit your sexual partners, and avoid douching. Although limiting sex might not even help since women who have never been sexually active have had BV. 

That being said, you really do need to get it treated if it doesn’t go away on it’s own. Left untreated and you’ll increase your risk of developing STDs, such as HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea.

And if you’re pregnant, you risk giving birth too early.

Why Is Nobody Talking About It?  

The bottom line is that there’s no need to panic because BV is really NBD. Definitely seek medical treatment if something doesn’t feel quite right, just don't panic. You’re not gross or weird for getting literally the most common infection in women.

It does feel strange that more women do not know what BV is, and it certainly does not get the same publicity as yeast infections. I’m not sure why this is the case, given how many women will have BV at some point in their lives. Maybe it’s because you can have BV and not even know since the symptoms won’t disrupt your life, while thrush or a UTI most certainly will.

Whatever the case, it’s better to err on the side of caution and get anything funky checked out by a medical professional.

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