Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition that many people with vaginas will experience at least once in their lifetime.
It can be uncomfortable and even distressing, as common symptoms of BV include itchiness and burning. However, for some people, BV will present no symptoms at all!
BV occurs when the bacterial balance in the vagina is thrown out of sync. This can be caused by penetrative sex, including having sex with a new partner.
However, BV can also occur when having sex in a long-term relationship. And you can develop BV without having sex at all! Numerous factors can cause BV to develop.
To put it simply: bacterial vaginosis is not a sign of cheating. If you or your partner develops BV, it doesn’t mean that someone has been unfaithful. BV is not sexually transmitted, even if it can be a result of penetrative sex.
The links between BV, vaginitis, STIs, and sexual intercourse can be a little confusing. In this guide, we aim to break down where these conditions overlap, where they don’t, and find the facts among the falsehoods.
Fact: Bacterial Vaginosis Is Considered A Type of Vaginitis
Let’s start with the basics: bacterial vaginosis (BV) falls under the heading of vaginitis. Vaginitis is a broad term used to describe various conditions that are associated with irritation, pain, and inflammation of the vagina. Vaginitis itself is not a single condition.
As well as BV, some forms of vaginitis also include gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomoniasis. These are all considered STIs, which means they’re transmitted through sexual intercourse.
Considering this, it’s easy to see where the link between BV and STIs comes from, even if it isn’t entirely accurate.
However, other forms of vaginitis include yeast infections, which aren’t STIs. Yeast infections occur when the vaginal bacteria is imbalanced, causing an overgrowth of yeast.
Vaginitis is a very broad term, encompassing various conditions that have similar symptoms but that can be transmitted and contracted in different ways.
Vaginitis in itself isn’t an STI, it’s simply a term that includes STIs. There are many ways to contract vaginitis that require no sexual intercourse at all.
And while you can contract BV through sexual intercourse, it is unlikely to be transmitted through intercourse.
False: Bacterial Vaginosis Has No Links To Sexual Intercourse
There are two important things to keep in mind when considering BV and sex. First, bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Second, sexual intercourse can increase your risk of contracting bacterial vaginosis.
These two facts might seem conflicting, but they aren’t! An STI is defined as an infection that can be transmitted during sex. There’s very little evidence suggesting that BV can be passed through sex, meaning it isn’t considered an STI.
There is some evidence suggesting partners with vaginas can spread BV to each other, but it’s highly unlikely that a penis can pass on BV.
If you don’t have an infection but your partner does, it doesn’t mean they “caught” BV from someone else. It isn’t an STI, so it doesn’t transmit from person to person.
So, what is the link between BV and sex?
BV is an imbalance in the bacteria in the vagina. There’s currently no clear consensus on what causes BV, but it’s linked to many different factors. One of those factors is penetrative sex.
The vagina has a pretty delicate bacterial balance. A shift in that balance can lead to you developing BV. Yes, a new sexual partner can cause a shift in that balance.
But any form of penetrative sex can upset the balance, even if it’s with a partner you’ve been with for years.
Other factors that can potentially lead to BV include:
- Washing with harsh soaps.
- Fitting an IUD.
- Even ethnicity.
BV is rarely a sign that a partner has been cheating. Instead, it could be a signal that they need to get rid of their irritating soaps and switch to more breathable underwear.
It might also be a sign that you need to use a condom! This can help reduce the likelihood of developing BV.
Bacterial vaginosis can increase your likelihood of contracting an STI. The changes caused by BV can alter the natural defenses of the vagina, making you more susceptible to contracting an infection through sexual activity.
Fact: You Can Have Multiple Forms Of Vaginitis At One Time
As we mentioned above, vaginitis is a fairly broad term that encompasses several different conditions.
Unfortunately, that does mean you can have more than one type of vaginitis at any one time. For example, BV and a yeast infection might occur in tandem.
If you suspect you have vaginitis, the best thing to do is consult your physician. With tests and questions, they can determine the exact type of BV you have and offer you accurate medication to clear the problem as quickly as possible.
However, here are some symptoms to look for that can indicate potential BV.
- Thin discharge with a “fishy” smell. Often the first sign that you have BV is vaginal discharge. The discharge associated with BV is typically described as thin and pale, with a bad “fishy” smell. BV isn’t always accompanied by discharge, but it is a common indicator.If your discharge is white, thick, and lumpy, this is likely to be a yeast infection. Green or yellow discharge, accompanied by a strong odor, is often a sign of trichomoniasis.
- An itchy vagina. Bacterial vaginosis can be an uncomfortable condition and an early symptom is often itchiness. However, vaginal itching alone isn’t a sign of BV. This can be caused by yeast infections and STIs, but it can also be a sign that you’re using the wrong soap.
- Burning or pain during urination. A “burning” sensation when urinating most often indicates a UTI. A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract so it isn’t considered a form of vaginitis.
However, BV, as well as other vaginitis conditions including yeast infections, can also result in pain while urinating. It’s also possible to have a UTI at the same time as bacterial vaginosis.
False: Bacterial Vaginosis Causes Redness And Bumps
Several vaginitis conditions are associated with visual changes, such as redness and bumps in the vagina. However, these are not considered a sign of BV.
Yeast infections can cause redness in the vagina. This redness is considered a common symptom of yeast infections, not BV. STIs such as genital herpes can potentially cause bumps.
However, bumps and redness around the vagina can also be caused by ingrown hairs and irritating products. They can also be a result of common skin conditions such as acne.
While bumps and redness aren’t a sign of BV, it doesn’t mean you can’t have BV. As mentioned, it is possible to contract two forms of vaginitis at one time.
The best course of action is to consult with a doctor to determine what your symptoms mean, and what the best treatment plan is.
BV is not a sign of cheating and it should never be taken as proof that a partner has been unfaithful. BV is a form of vaginitis, but it isn’t an STI.
As an imbalance in the bacteria of the vagina, BV can be caused by a large number of factors. This can be having sex with a new partner, but penetrative sex with your current partner can also result in BV.
You can also get bacterial vaginosis without having sex at all!
If you or your partner develops BV, you might be tempted to start pointing fingers. However, when it comes to BV, there’s rarely a clear-cut culprit. Speak openly with your partner and try to reestablish trust.
If you experience any uncomfortable sensations in your vagina, consult a doctor to determine a treatment plan. BV, STIs, yeast infections, and UTIs can all present in similar ways with overlapping symptoms.
Bacterial vaginosis doesn’t indicate that a partner has been cheating. However, accusations of unfaithfulness can be a sign that the relationship isn’t working.