ANSWERS & ADVICE

EXPERT PERSPECTIVE

Clinical sexologist, author, and social media celebrity Shan Boody breaks down BV basics—and misconceptions.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Got questions? Your answers may live here.

WHAT IS BV?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV for short) is a very common infection.1 In fact, it affects over 21 million women in the U.S. between the ages of 14 and 49 annually. BV is caused by an imbalance of "good" and "bad" bacteria in your vagina. Basically, it's when the bad bacteria outnumber the good.2 BV may increase your chance of contracting other infections or cause complications in pregnancy.3 Thankfully, BV can be treated with the right diagnosis.

HOW IS BV TREATED?

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.4 Learn more about how to treat BV.

WHAT IS pH?

Scientifically speaking, pH is a scale of acidity and alkalinity. In other words, a pH scale measures how acidic or basic something is (think sour lemons vs bitter, unsweetened cocoa). 0 to 7 are the acids, with 0 being the strongest. 7 to 14 are bases, with 14 being the strongest base.5,6

To learn more about why pH is important, check out "Why Is pH Important?"

IS THIS SOMETHING I CAN DIAGNOSE ON MY OWN?

Although you may know when something doesn't seem right with your vagina, a healthcare provider is trained to examine discharge and the appearance of the exterior and interior vaginal area, and is best able to recommend appropriate treatment.7

You may be surprised to learn that over 70% of women attempt to self-treat what they may believe to be a yeast infection, which in fact is often BV.8 Trying to take matters into your own hands may worsen conditions. Also, if you see "at-home tests" available online, remember that they can be unreliable.7

HOW CAN I TELL THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A YEAST INFECTION AND BV?

It's really hard to tell one infection from another, but check out this helpful chart and be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms.

HOW CAN I TALK TO MY OB/GYN ABOUT SYMPTOMS?

Check out this handy Discussion Guide to help you talk to your healthcare provider.

WHO HAS TO KNOW THAT I HAVE BV?

There are many reasons BV can occur, and none of them are your fault! BV can occur even if you've never had sex—which means it is NOT a sexually transmitted infection (STI). It is NOT a matter of poor hygiene either! BV can occur whenever there is bacterial imbalance in the vagina.3

Thankfully, BV is treatable. If you have a female partner, it will be important that she visits her OB/GYN as well; BV can spread to female partners, because, you may have guessed it, they also have vaginas! But if you have a male sex partner, he won't need to be treated, since BV is a vaginal infection.9

WHAT SOAPS ARE SAFE?

Talk to your healthcare professional about what soaps may be best for you. Typically, an unscented, natural soap may help keep your pH in check. Remember that it is best to focus on washing the outside of your vagina, as inside your body does the work for you.10

Read about the causes of changes in pH level in your vagina to better determine which products are safe to use.

WHAT CAN I DO AT HOME TO KEEP MY VAGINA HEALTHY?

There are many things you can do on a daily basis to keep her healthy. Using condoms and eating probiotic-rich food can help keep your pH balance in check. Practice cleanliness when engaging in sexual intercourse and make sure not to douche.11 Check out ways to keep her happy and healthy here.

WHY ARE STDs NOW CALLED STIs?

Hmm, what?! Because the term disease suggests that there is an obvious medical problem when in fact many sexually transmitted infections show no signs or symptoms, HCPs are swapping the D for an I. A sexually transmitted bacteria or virus creates infection, which may or may not result in outwardly obvious disease. Gonorrhea, HPV, chlamydia, and herpes are all STIs that can exist without apparent symptoms.10

WHERE CAN I GO TO FIND ADDITIONAL INFORMATION?

Every woman could use support. If you'd like to move a little closer to optimal health down there, check out the sites here:

HealthyWomen.org
U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – Find a Community Health Center
Office of Population Affairs – Clinic Finder

SHOW REFERENCES

  • 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.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Diseases characterized by vaginal discharge. www.cdc.gov/std/tg2015/vaginal-discharge-htm. Accessed September 25, 2017.
  • Intimina. Why vaginal pH is essential to your intimate health. www.intimina.com/blog/vaginal-ph-importance/. Accessed September 15, 2017.
  • Kumar N, Behera B, Sagiri SS, Pal K, Ray SS, Roy S. Bacterial vaginosis: etiology and modalities of treatment—a brief note. J Pharm Bioallied Sci. 2011;3(4):496-503. Accessed September 18, 2017.
  • Masin P. 5 things your gynecologist can tell from a basic exam. www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/11/03/pelvic-exam-results_n_6068798.html. Accessed September 25, 2017.
  • Baraia ZA, Abdallah IM, Noor SA. Impact of educational program about self-care practices on the relieving of vaginal infection among high risk women in Ismailia city. IOSR J Nurs Health Sci. 2017;6(3):73-78.
  • 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.
  • Women's Health magazine. Your definitive guide to cleaning your vagina. www.womenshealthmag.com/health/how-to-clean-your-vagina. Accessed September 25, 2017.
  • Oerman A. 11 ways to keep your vagina happy and healthy. www.womenshealthmag.com/health/healthy-vagina. Accessed September 25, 2017.