The vagina is a very interesting place. It is so strong that it can push out a baby, has its own climate and functions, and contains a host of interesting microbes. Basically, your vagina is full of bacteria, both healthy and unhealthy. The vagina is a self-sufficient creature, able to rid itself of harmful bacteria that enters—most of the time, anyway. Sometimes, however, the bad bacteria gets a bit out of control, causing an infection—bacterial vaginosis.
As Web MD puts it, bacteria is what makes all the magic happen. Specifically, lactobacillus: “Lactobacillus keeps your vagina slightly acidic so bad types of bacteria don't grow well. If your lactobacillus levels drop, more bad bacteria move in, and you get BV [bacterial vaginosis].”
Here is what you should know about bacterial vaginosis and what you can do to keep your vagina happy and healthy. (Your vagina is a miraculous place, after all. Be kind to it.)
Is bacterial vaginosis an STI?
Bacterial vaginosis is extremely common. It is almost as common as a yeast infection, which nearly every woman will experience at some point in her life. It is not a straight STI. You can get bacterial vaginosis from a variety of things, just like a common cold. It happens. You’re not dirty, irresponsible, or bad for getting any kind of infection.
That being said, BV can be transmitted from one person to another through sexual activity. You can get it through intercourse, oral, or anal sex if the other person has a BV infection. So, to say it is an STI is kind of literal—it is an infection that can be transferred through sex, but it isn’t always transferred through sex.
This makes it different from infections such as chlamydia or gonorrhea, which are exclusively transmitted through sexual activity. This is an important distinction. You can get BV from douching (never do this!), washing your vagina with soap, smoking, sex, etc.
What are the symptoms?
You might have symptoms and you might not. Sometimes you get bacterial vaginosis and aren’t even aware of it. Your body can often rid itself of the infection and balance itself back out. Everyone is different.
You know that thing we all heard from someone in our early developmental years about how vaginas smell like fish? This absurd myth might actually find its roots in bacterial vaginosis. A healthy vagina and vulva have a smell. They smell like a body part. Sometimes it’s a bit musty or pungent. Everyone has a different scent, but a vagina smells like a vagina. Let’s be real: a penis doesn’t smell like a body spray from Bath & Body Works. It smells like a penis. Call a spade a spade and stop with the shame already.
However, bacterial vaginosis can give the vagina a fishy smell. So, if your vagina does smell like rotting tuna, this isn’t because you have a vagina. It’s because you have an infection. Make an appointment with your doctor to get a test for bacterial vaginosis right away. Your doctor will test you with a cotton swab and may want to test for common STIs as well.
Other symptoms include burning when you pee or a gray discharge. Always keep an eye on your vagina. For the most part, it takes care of itself, but it does get a bit out of whack occasionally.
How do you get rid of bacterial vaginosis?
Treating BV is pretty simple, but it does take an Rx antibiotic prescribed by your doctor.
Unlike a yeast infection, which you can treat with antifungals such as Monistat, for BV you’ll need a dose of antibiotics for five to seven days. Be sure to always take the complete round of antibiotics. If you stop taking them, your body can build up a resistance to the medication, making it less effective should you get another BV infection.
What can I do to keep my vagina healthy and balanced?
Don’t do anything to your vagina. Pretty simple. Do not wash it with soap. Do not mess with it. Do not use “feminine hygiene” products. If anything, products like Summer’s Eve vaginal wash will cause an infection.
If you’re prone to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections, take look at your routine. Are you keeping your vagina healthy? Check out our guide here to make sure.
You can also try natural remedies like Momotaro’s bath tonic. It promotes all-over vaginal wellness and helps maintain a healthy vaginal ecosystem.