Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is just one of many conditions that any vagina owner can encounter thanks to bacterial overgrowth that’s already hanging out in your hoo-ha. This may leave you dealing with vaginal odor, discharge, and discomfort.
But can a sudden BV infection confirm someone’s been a cheater, cheater, pumpkin eater? Sorry, but it’s not that simple. And it’s unlikely BV is a sign of cheating.
There are a slew of factors that can lead to BV. Sure, getting jiggy with a new partner is on the list, but so is smoking and douching.
Here’s a deeper look into why BV isn’t a tell-tale sign of cheating.
You may think since BV’s not a run-of-the-mill yeast infection, it must be an STI, right? Wrong! BV is 👏 not 👏 an 👏 STI 👏.
BV happens when there’s an overgrowth of naturally occurring bacteria in the vag. STIs happen when there’s an infection thanks to bacteria or other pathogens that *don’t* naturally occur in the vagina.
A common reason BV is confused with an STI, is it can cause similar symptoms like:
- vaginal itching, burning, or pain
- thin white or gray vaginal discharge
- powerful fishy odor (notably post-sex)
- itchy skin around the vagina
Long story short…
BV is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria already living in the vag. It can even affect those who’ve never had sex, so it can’t be something that’s exclusively sexually transmitted. You feel us?
Even though BV isn’t an STI, it can pop up after sex. This is because any form of penetrative sex can throw off your vagina’s natural bacterial balance — which, you guessed it — can lead to that overgrowth of BV-causing bacteria.
As far as passing an infection onto a partner, it’s unlikely anyone with a penis will get BV. But it is possible for BV to spread between partners with vaginas.
BV and STIs can still coexist…
BV can boost your odds of getting an STI, since bacterial changes may drop the vagina’s natural defenses.
Things that can disrupt your vaginal bacteria and lead to BV include:
- Douches or vaginal soaps. These can seriously throw off your vagina’s environment. This won’t cause BV directly, but it can interfere with the natural bacteria that lets BV flourish. (tl;dr: ditch the douche!)
- Sexual activity. As we pointed out before, penetrative sex can also throw off your vag’s natural order, causing BV to make its unwanted appearance. Really inserting *anything* into the vag can lead to BV.
- Diet. Those who chow down a diet rich in fat or low in folate, vitamin E, and calcium are more likely to get BV.
- Your period. Menstrual bleeding is also a very common cause. Anything that alters your vagina’s pH can trigger a bacteria overgrowth and lead to BV.
You’re also at risk of getting BV if you:
- have sex without barrier methods (i.e., a condom)
- have sex with a new partner
- had an intrauterine device (IUD) put in
- are Black (based on potential microbiome differences and healthcare access and bias)
Researchers still need more information to learn why BV can suddenly show up out of nowhere. There are just too many irritating possibilities behind BV.
But, some studies think having sex with the same partner may be the link to recurrent BV infections — BV that keeps coming back.
What’s the deal with recurrent BV!?
BV is considered recurrent if it comes back after 3 *symptomatic* episodes in 12 months.
Annoyingly, up to 80 percent of those who look for BV treatment end up with BV symptoms again (ugh).
Around 30 percent of BV cases disappear without treatment after a few days.
But if you’re having BV symptoms, it’s still a good idea to head to the doc for help diagnosing and treating BV. Untreated BV can lead to pregnancy complications, pelvic inflammatory disease, and increase your risk of STIs.
To treat BV, your doc may prescribe an antibiotic like clindamycin or metronidazole you’ll apply directly into the vag (metronidazole also comes in a pill form). BTW, metronidazole is considered safe if you’re preggo 🤰. Solosec (Secnidazole) is also becoming an extremely common drug used for BV.
If you happen to get more BV symptoms a few months after your treatment, your doc may suggest another round of antibiotics. In fact, up to 6 months of treatment for recurrent BV may be necessary.
Crazy enough, about half of people with BV don’t experience any symptoms. But, BV often comes with strong odor, unusual gray vaginal discharge, and some irritation while you pee.
While you’re recovering from BV, consider trying these tips to ease symptoms (just get the go-ahead from your doc first):
- Take showers instead of baths.
- Use gentle soap when you shower and just use warm water to wash your bits (no fancy vag soaps or douching!).
- Rock undies made from light, breathable fabrics like cotton.
- Going commando at night might help, too.
If you’re still stressing about STIs, booking a test can give you peace of mind.
STI symptoms to keep an eye out for:
- unusual discharge from penis or vagina
- pain when you pee
- itching, burning around genitals
- sores, lumps, or spots around genitals or anus
- bleeding or pain during or after sex
- pain in testicles or lower abdomen
This sitch makes it easy to go into defense mode. No one wants to be confronted about possible infidelity. Do your best to stay calm and hear what they have to say. In fact, tell them directly, “I hear you.”
Often these concerns come up because someone truly values their relationship and wants to take care of it.
After listening to your partner’s concerns, offer your best info about BV and how it’s not an STI (shameless plug: send them this article!).
If they still want an STI test, consider offering your support by suggesting you both get tested together, but only if you’re comfortable doing so.
Since we don’t know too much about why BV pops up so randomly, it’s also hard to say for sure how it can be prevented.
There’s some evidence that probiotics may be a helpful tool in managing or preventing recurrent cases of BV. But we still need more info to know for sure.
The best prevention methods to keep your vagina happy and balanced include:
The exact causes of BV are a bit mysterious beyond an overgrowth of bacteria in the vag. But we do know that BV is not an STI.
So if you or a partner has BV, it’s not a sign of cheating. But, sexual activity can lead to BV because it can disrupt the vagina’s environment.
Ultimately, there’s no one to point fingers at for BV. And it’s more important to talk with your doctor about relief and necessary treatment.
If cheating is still a concern, consider getting tested for STIs to offer you and your partner some peace of mind.