A strong and noticeable odor may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV is a common infection.1 In fact, it's the most common vaginal infection for women between the ages of 14 and 49 (affecting 21 million women in the U.S. annually).2 If you have it, BV can be a real bummer.

How does BV develop? Every day, your vagina balances good bacteria (lactobacilli) with bad bacteria (anaerobes). Usually there's more good bacteria than bad bacteria. Having enough good bacteria, while keeping some bad bacteria under control, can help keep the vagina healthy. But if there's not enough good bacteria, more bad bacteria may develop and lead to BV.2

Despite numerous medical studies, no one is quite sure what causes the imbalance in vaginal bacteria. BV can occur even if you've never had intercourse.3 This means it's NOT a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Side note: Learn why STDs are now called STIs!

BV is NOT a matter of poor hygiene, either.3 BV can occur whenever there is a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Only one thing's for sure: It's not your fault.

bacterial vaginosis statistics
bacterial vaginosis statistics

*Data collected from a survey of women with recurrent BV.


  • Contracting STIs like herpes, trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV3
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, which can later cause infertility3
  • Premature labor or other pregnancy complications like low birth weight3

There's no need to ring the alarm just yet. Thankfully, BV is treatable with a prescription from a healthcare provider. That's why it's extremely important to talk to one.

If you have a female partner, BV can spread to her, too.6 If you think you have BV, she should visit a healthcare provider as well. Male sex partners can't contract BV since—you guessed it—they don't have vaginas!

Need help talking to your healthcare provider? Here's a handy Discussion Guide.


Because the symptoms are similar, it can be hard to tell one gynecological infection from another. We hope this chart helps! But, most importantly, make sure to talk to a healthcare provider for real help.


BV can be treated with a prescription from your OB/GYN or healthcare provider.

tube of cream icon

A commonly prescribed treatment for BV is a 7-day course of an oral antibiotic, or a 5- to 7-day course of antibiotic gel or cream applied inside the vagina. There are no over-the-counter or holistic remedies that have been proven to effectively or safely treat BV.7

no alcohol icon

It's recommended NOT to drink alcohol during treatment (and for at least 24 hours after completing treatment) due to the possibility of an adverse reaction between the medicine and alcohol.8

no sex icon

You may want to hold off on sex entirely until the optimal balance of bacteria is reached and your pH levels return to normal.9 You may also be advised to abstain from sex during treatment because oil-based cream medications can weaken condoms and/or diaphragms.7

Pay attention, ladies, this is important: 60% of women who have BV are more than likely to see it return within 12 months.4 However, new advancements in treatment may soon help reduce the burdens caused by BV and current therapies.


  • Bilardi J, Walker S, McNair R, et al. Women's management of recurrent bacterial vaginosis and experiences of clinical care: a qualitative study. PLoS One. 2016;11(3):e0151794. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151794. eCollection 2016. Accessed August 23, 2017.
  • Koumans EH, Sternberg M, Bruce C, et al. The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in the United States, 2001-2004; associations with symptoms, sexual behaviors, and reproductive health. Sex Transm Dis. 2007;34(11):864-869.
  • Brotman RM. Vaginal microbiome and sexually transmitted infections: an epidemiologic perspective. J Clin Invest. 2011;121(12):4610-4617.
  • Bilardi JE, Walker S, Temple-Smith M, et al. The burden of bacterial vaginosis: women’s experience of the physical, emotional, sexual and social impact of living with recurrent bacterial vaginosis. PLoS One. 2013;8(9):e74378. https://doi.org.10.1371/journal.pone.0074378. Accessed August 23, 2017.
  • Payne SC, Cromer PR, Stanek MK, Palmer AA. Evidence of African-American women's frustrations with chronic recurrent bacterial vaginosis. J Am Acad Nurse Pract. 2010;22(2):101-108.
  • Donders G. Diagnosis and management of bacterial vaginosis and other types of abnormal vaginal bacterial flora: a review. Obstet Gynecol Surv. 2010;65(7):462-473.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diseases characterized by vaginal discharge. www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/vaginal-discharge-htm. Accessed September 25, 2017.
  • Garber GE. The laboratory diagnosis of Trichomonas vaginalis. Can J Infect Dis Med Microbiol. 2005;16:35-38.
  • Intimina. Why vaginal pH is essential to your intimate health. www.intimina.com/blog/vaginal-ph-importance/. Accessed September 15, 2017.