Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection that is caused by an overgrowth of ‘bad’ bacteria in the vagina, Gardnerella Vaginitis. This bacteria can outgrow the ‘good’ bacteria, Lactobacillus, and causes symptoms such as thin, watery discharge that’s a grey colour and strong, fish-smelling odour.
The symptoms can be embarrassing and frustrating for those that experience them, but around a third of women will experience BV at some point in their lives.
BV can arise and remit spontaneously and although not strictly considered a sexually transmitted infection (STI) it is associated with sexual activity. Of note, women with BV are at an increased risk of acquiring STIs. It can be passed from female to female via sexual intercourse. It is also thought it can pass from female to female via a man. For example, if a woman and a man engage in sexual intercourse and the man has sex with a second woman some time afterwards, this second female may contract BV too, despite men not being able to get the infection themselves.
Men will not display signs of having the infection because their penises don’t work in the same way as a woman’s vagina. They do not have the same delicate balance of bacteria and so the bacteria doesn’t affect them. Yet, they can still pass the infection on.
BV isn’t just contracted during sex. When the Lactobacillus bacteria that are responsible for keeping the vagina clean and free of infection are reduced, infections are more likely to develop. This reduction in Lactobacillus allows the bacteria that cause BV to develop and grow. Read on to find out what other factors can reduce the creation of ‘good’ bacteria.
Can you go swimming with a BV infection?
BV cannot be passed from female to female via swimming pools, toilet seats or hot tubs. However, it’s worth noting that chlorine can cause irritation of the vagina and the skin around it. The chemicals that are used to keep the pool clean are absorbed into the fabric of your swimming costume. Your added body heat creates a warm, damp place that’s perfect for bacteria to grow in. Yeast infections such as Thrush and Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) can also be caused by frequent swimming.
This is why it’s important to remove swimwear immediately after getting out of the pool and to have a shower, using a feminine wash to clean your delicate area. If you’re on holiday and are regularly dipping in and out of the pool, take multiple swimming costumes or bikinis.
Can BV be transmitted orally?
BV can be transmitted orally, but it’s also thought that oral sex can cause BV to develop in the first instance. The mouth, just like the vagina, contains lots of bacteria. The bacteria in saliva can upset the natural flora of the vagina, causing infections such as Thrush and BV.
Is Bacterial Vaginosis an STD?
Sexually transmitted diseases, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as they’re now classified, are identified by NHS Inform as infections that, “are passed from one person to another through unprotected sex or genital contact”. STIs are infections that are caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites.
Although BV can be passed via unprotected sex, this isn’t the only way that it can be contracted, therefore it is not classified as an STI in this country. Many people think that BV is an STI, but it isn’t classified as one because it isn’t skin-to-skin contact that causes the infection. Instead, it is a change in bacteria levels in the vagina. All other STIs, such as Chlamydia, Herpes and Gonorrhoea, can only be passed via sexual contact.
This change in bacteria levels can be caused by semen, oral sex or by having sex with multiple partners. But there are other, non-sexual activities and products that can cause BV too, such as smoking, using overly scented soaps and body wash in that area and the menopause. Women who have never had sex rarely get BV but it can still occur, which shows that it isn’t just transmitted sexually, unlike STIs.
If you think that you have BV, you should seek treatment straight away. Various options are available including antibiotics and other treatments such as BV Gel, which is available without a prescription. If you are unsure or would like advice, we recommend you speak to a healthcare professional.