NurseAsk Nurse Lisa

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?

  • BV is a bacterial infection. It happens when different kinds of healthy bacteria in a vagina get out of balance and grow too much. BV is often caused by gardnerella vaginalis, the most common type of bacteria in a vagina.
  • BV is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15-44.
  • BV is NOT a sexually transmitted infection.

Quick Fact

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is NOT an STI. BV is an infection that can hinder sexual health in people who have a vagina.

How do I know if I have BV?

BV is a mild infection in the vagina. Sometimes there are no symptoms. BV may cause pain while peeing, itching in or around the vagina, fishy-smelling odor, white or gray discharge that is thin, more noticeable during someone’s period or after sex. Vaginal discharge is normal for the body during different times in the menstrual cycle. But if any discharge or other symptoms are not normal, see your health care provider. BV is NOT a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI), but the chances of someone getting BV increases with the number of sexual partners.

How can I get BV?

People with a vagina can develop BV when there is an imbalance of “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. BV can happen in different ways. Having sex does NOT mean someone automatically has BV. People who have never had sex can get BV. Certain things can make getting BV more likely:

  • douching (washing or cleaning out the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids)
  • new sex partners
  • many different sex partners (male or female)
  • cigarette smoking.

BV is not spread by sexual intercourse, toilet seats, sheets, clothing, hot tubs, saunas, steam baths, or swimming pools.

How can I get treated?

See a health care provider if you are experiencing any symptoms that do not seem normal. The provider will ask you questions about your symptoms and then will examine you and possibly collect a sample of vaginal fluid with a cotton swab to be tested in a lab.

BV is usually treated with prescription antibiotics, vaginal creams, or suppositories.

If someone with BV is having sex with a male partner, he will most likely not have to be tested for BV. Female partners should get tested.

What happens if I don’t get treated?

Untreated BV can affect sexual health by:

  • increasing the chances of getting an STD like herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV/AIDs
  • increasing the likelihood of pregnancy complications like premature birth, low birth weight, infection, and possibly miscarriage

Get Help

For general resources about relationships, sex, wellness and more, please do a search on the Get Answers page.

Are you in immediate danger?

Call 911 or your local police. If not in an immediate threat, please view resources on the Get Help page.