Is BV an STI? 10 Myths and Facts about Bacterial Vaginosis
There are so many myths surrounding women’s health and BV that we had to dedicate an entire post to it. This way, you can have a better understanding of facts and fiction and make better choices regarding your vaginal health.
For those who don’t know what BV is, let’s start with a quick summary to get you up to speed.
First and foremost, BV stands for Bacterial Vaginosis . This is a vaginal infection that is caused by the overgrowth of certain bad bacteria. When there is an imbalance in the amount of good and bad bacteria in the vagina, the pH changes and a woman will experience certain symptoms until the balance is restored.
Bacterial Vaginosis will affect 1 in 3 women at least once in her lifetime. BV is the most common vaginal infection women can experience and is treatable.
With that being said, it is time to touch on the top 10 claims we’ve heard and debunk all the myths.
1. BV is an STD
Myth: Bacterial Vaginosis is an STD like HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhea, Chlamydia or Syphilis since you can get it by having sex.
Fact: BV is indeed more likely to occur in women who have had multiple sexual partners, but it is by no means a Sexually Transmitted Infection.
A Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD) is one that is passed on from person to person through sexual contact, i.e vaginal, oral or anal sex. It generally includes symptoms such as sores, warts, and pus-filled pimples on the genitals, skin rashes, painful urination and sex, fever and chills, weight loss, bleeding from the genitals, night sweats and even yellowing of the skin.
Though some of these symptoms may be experienced with BV and can cause it to be mistaken for an STD, it is not considered an STD because of the way it is transmitted.
BV can happen without sexual intercourse and is caused by the overgrowth of bacteria such as Gardnerella in the vagina, and not enough bacteria such as lactobacilli to maintain a balanced environment.
2. You only get BV when you don’t wash properly
Myth: BV only happens to unclean women and if you want to get rid of it you need feminine hygiene products such as washes and douches to keep the vagina clean and healthy.
Fact: When persons hear the word infection, especially when it is associated with the vagina, they automatically think it is because the person doesn’t bathe often or isn’t paying enough attention to intimate hygiene.
First of all, the vagina doesn’t need any help with cleaning itself clean. It is perfectly capable of maintaining a “clean” environment without your help. All you need to do is wash your vulva and you’ll be fine.
Secondly, BV isn’t caused by not washing, it can, however, be caused by excessive cleaning. Many feminine hygiene products contain harsh ingredients that kill good bacteria and gives room for the bad bacteria to take over. So does douching . Overcleaning will throw off the pH of the vagina and put you at an increased risk of developing BV or having recurring BV.
So do your lady bits a favor, toss the douche and stick to your warm water and mild, unscented soap.
3. Only sexually active women get BV
Myth: BV is only a problem for women who have sex, especially with many partners
Fact: Again, BV is not a sexually transmitted. It can happen as a result of sex but virgins can get it too.
This is a pretty common myth, especially amongst older folk. Imagine a 15-year-old girl who has never had a boyfriend, let alone had sex, having to explain to her mother that she’s never had sex before but has gotten BV.
BV can happen in such a case simply because her vagina does not produce enough lactic acid whose job is to prevent bacterial overgrowth. It can also be caused by menstruation since lactobacilli bind to red blood cells and can exit the body in menstrual blood.
As it relates to sex, studies have shown that persons with multiple partners are more likely to develop BV, but this is because of things like the biofilms on a man penis that have bad bacteria or by sharing sex toys with other women who have BV.
A woman can also get BV if she only has one partner if he ejaculates inside of her as semen can alter pH. It can even happen with a faithful partner since natural genital chemistry changes can promote the growth of bad bacteria. This can be prevented by using a condom or by practicing the withdrawal method.
BV can also be caused by smoking, using spermicide, taking antibiotics, birth control and even pregnancy.
4. BV is the same thing as thrush
Myth: BV is the same thing as thrush or a yeast infection.
Fact: While Bacterial Vaginosis and Yeast Infections are both vaginal infections, they are not the same thing.
Firstly, Bacterial Vaginosis is caused by the overgrowth of bad bacteria, while [yeast infections] are caused by the overgrowth of yeast in the vagina.
Bacterial Vaginosis has similar symptoms to yeast infections such as abnormal discharge, however, BV causes thin, yellow or grey discharge with a fishy smell while yeast infections cause thick, white discharge that can sometimes be odorless. BV also causes burning sensations in the vagina, especially when peeing, while yeast infections cause itching, irritation, and swelling.
5. Yogurt can cure or prevent BV
Myth: Inserting a yogurt covered tampon can cure or prevent BV
Fact: Yogurt is by no means a cure for BV. While yogurt does have its benefits, meaning it is a probiotic and promotes the growth of good bacteria and vaginal health, sticking a tampon with any form of food into the vagina is never a good idea. In fact, flavored yogurts can make your symptoms even worse and lead to a yeast infection.
Reap the benefits of yogurt by incorporating it into your diet, and go see a doctor who can prescribe you with effective, mess-free treatment options.
6. You can’t get BV while on your period
Myth: Menstrual blood flushes out all the bad things in the vagina, including bacteria.
Fact: Your period doesn’t stop or prevent BV from happening, in fact, it can cause it or make it pop up again.
For starters, blood has a higher pH than your vagina and causes it to rise during your period which can promote bacterial growth. And, as we said earlier, menstrual blood can reduce the number of lactobacilli in the vagina temporarily.
BV during your period can also happen when you wear a pad for too long or when it starts to get too sweaty down there which creates a warm, moist environment for the bad bacteria to thrive. It can also be caused by tampons which may contain fragrances and chemicals that can upset the vagina’s balance.
7. You won’t get pregnant if you have BV
Myth: BV can prevent conception
Fact: BV cannot stop you from getting pregnant since bacteria have nothing to do with conception.
The problem lies with what can happen to the organs responsible for reproduction if the BV goes unchecked. If left untreated , BV can travel up the vagina to the cervix, uterus and fallopian tubes and lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) which can scar or block the fallopian tubes, leading to ectopic pregnancies and infertility.
While pregnant, hormone fluctuations can cause BV. If it goes untreated , it can cause you to miscarry or deliver a baby with low birth weight prematurely.
8. You can get BV from a public restroom
Myth: Sitting on toilet seats in public restrooms can cause BV
Fact: Most people hate using public restrooms and don’t even sit on the seats in fear of getting an infection. So, we do the hover if we need to pee or put toilet paper on the seat if we want to do a #2.
The reality is, most germs can’t survive for an extended period on a toilet seat and you’re more likely to pick something up from the door handle than the toilet seat. For an infection to even happen, your vagina would have to be in direct contact with the toilet seat and the bacteria would have to travel up the urethra or through a sore on your buttocks to even cause a problem.
Now we aren’t saying just go plop down on a toilet seat since you can’t get BV . You can experience a rash if there are urine droplets on the seat or pieces of fecal matter, so always be sure to look before you sit. Or don’t, it’s all up to you. Just know that BV isn’t something you should be concerned about getting in the public restroom.
9. You don’t need to see a doctor to cure your BV
Myth: BV can be cured naturally and will go away before you need to see a doctor
Fact: It is true that mild cases of BV can clear up on their own and that you may not need to see a doctor for treatment, but the BV will likely come back without proper management.
A doctor can prescribe the right kind of medication that kills the bacteria and restores balance to the vagina. This can be in the form of a pill/capsule, cream or gel such as metronidazole 500mg, metronidazole 0.75% gel, clindamycin cream 2%, secnidazole granules, tinidazole, clindamycin 300 mg and clindamycin ovules 100 mg.
These work by killing bacteria, and not by producing more lactic acid-producing bacteria which help to manage bad bacteria. For this reason, 20-40% of women experience BV again within 3 months of treatment and up to 60% within a year.
When this happens, doctors prescribe a course of medication to help manage BV symptoms for the long term and are advised to be more cautious during sex by using condoms, cleaning sex toys, reconsidering their choice in sanitary products and starting birth control with estrogen such as the patch, pill or ring which have proven to be effective at preventing BV.
10. You can’t get BV from oral sex
Myth: BV can only be transmitted through vaginal sex
Fact: Even if you don’t have vaginal sex, [you can still get BV from oral sex]. This happens if food is used during oral sex, such as chocolate syrup and whipped cream. These upset the vagina’s fragile ecosystem and can cause Bacterial Vaginosis, and even a Yeast Infection.
BV can also be caused by oral sex because of the naturally occurring gram-negative and gram-positive organisms present in the mouth, which increases the risk of BV. In this study , it was found that women who had received oral sex were more likely to get BV that women who did not.
Now you know what is true and what is not about Bacterial Vaginosis. If you’ve never had this kind of infection before, be sure to take heed to all the preventive measures listed in this article. If you experience recurring symptoms, contact your doctor to ask about the treatments and medication listed to see if them would be right for you.