Social media can be an interesting place. Most use social media platforms to connect with friends and family; others leverage them to expand their businesses. However, some folks log onto X (formerly known as Twitter) to spread misinformation. On October 1st, a user on the platform tweeted to her 56,600 followers that bacterial vaginosis is an STD, which caused an uproar. As a result, the users’ followers and onlookers commented on the post with various responses rooted in confusion and anger. Some women users, however, asked what BV was, which concerned me as knowing about vaginal health, especially as a woman is important. Despite what the user tweeted, bacterial vaginosis isn’t an STD. Instead, it’s a common, treatable vaginal condition that happens when there is too much of certain bacteria in the vagina, which changes the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Bacterial vaginosis happens when the vagina’s natural bacteria levels are out of balance. The bacteria in the vagina are called the vaginal flora. Balanced vaginal flora help keep the vagina healthy. Usually, “good” bacteria outnumber “bad” bacteria. The good bacteria are called lactobacilli; the harmful bacteria are anaerobes. When there are too many anaerobes, they upset the balance of the flora, causing bacterial vaginosis. At the same time, bacterial vaginosis isn’t an STD; the untreated condition can cause a higher risk of receiving an STI.
The misinformation spread on X caused me to contact a certified obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Kiarra King, to learn more about bacterial vaginosis. “Bacterial vaginosis is essentially an overgrowth of bacteria that normally live in the vagina; it’s actually not a true infection. The pH of the vagina is moderately acidic (normal pH is 3.8-5); if anything disrupts the normal pH, there can be a shift in the flora or environment in the vagina. This can lead to bacterial vaginosis. Symptoms may include vaginal irritation, thin grayish discharge, and a fishy or foul odor. BV is very common in reproductive-age women,” she tells ESSENCE.
She continues, “As BV results from a pH shift in the vagina, BV prevention can occur by any means that can help maintain a normal vaginal pH (around 3.5-4.5). So, avoiding douching, wearing clean and dry undergarments (cotton or wicking fabrics to avoid excessive moisture), and, for some, probiotics can help maintain a normal vaginal pH and prevent BV. For some women, vaginal boric acid suppositories can help. These must be medical-grade or prescribed products and not what you would purchase at a hardware store as an insecticide. More importantly, call or see your OB/GYN to confirm a diagnosis before trying new treatments.”
Dr. King found it important to reiterate that BV isn’t an STI. “According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, although the occurrence of bacterial vaginosis is associated with sexual activity for both heterosexual and lesbian couples and rarely occurs in patients who have never been sexually active, the sexual transmission of a single pathogen does not directly cause it. However, per the CDC, BV can increase the chances of getting an STI. Additionally, not using condoms and having multiple sexual partners can increase the risk of having BV.”
If you have BV, you should have it confirmed by your OB/GYN, as other infections can present similarly to it. Doing this will allow the appropriate course of treatment to be given. BV is treatable with oral or intravaginal antibiotics.
Here’s how to prevent bacterial vaginosis:
Don’t use scented products. Wash your genitals with warm water only. Scented soaps and other scented products may cause vaginal tissues. Use unscented tampons or pads only.
Don’t douche. Douching won’t worsen a vaginal infection but may worsen it. Your vagina doesn’t require cleansing other than routine bathing. Douching disrupts the vaginal flora, raising your risk of infection.
Practice safe sex. To lower your risk of STIs, use latex condoms or dental dams. Clean any sex toys. Limit your number of sex partners, or don’t have sex.