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Is Bacterial Vaginosis an STI?

Is Bacterial Vaginosis an STI?

BV may not be a sexually transmitted infection, but it can be caused by having sex. We'll explain.

If you have a vagina, there's a good chance you'll experience bacterial vaginosis (BV). As one of the most frequent causes of vaginal symptoms, BV impacts around 30 percent of females.

Despite its ubiquity, there are a lot of misconceptions surrounding BV and how you get it. In this article, we'll demystify this pervasive infection and tackle a common question: Is bacterial vaginosis an STI?

What is bacterial vaginosis (BV)?

Bacterial vaginosis — BV for short — is a condition that occurs when the natural bacteria levels in the vagina are out of balance. If you have BV, you may experience fishy-smelling discharge, itchiness and inflammation around your vagina.

However, not everyone who has BV notices these symptoms. In fact, most people with BV — around 84 percent — experience no symptoms at all, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates.

Is bacterial vaginosis an STI or STD?

The short answer is no, BV is not a sexually transmitted infection or disease. However, even though BV is not an STI, it can increase your risk of developing STIs like chlamydia, gonorrhea and HIV.

The truth is that scientists don't completely understand why some people get BV. However, certain activities can increase your risk of developing the vaginal infection — and having sex is one of them. Researchers believe that sex can change the natural chemistry of your vagina, increasing the likelihood of bacterial overgrowth.  

Penises may play an important role in the transmission of bacterial vaginosis, one 2020 study found. In the study, the researchers discovered bacteria in the microbes of male penises that were predictive of the BV in their female sex partner.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

BV can be triggered by anything that disrupts your vaginal pH — not just sex. What causes this disruption is not yet fully understood, but we do know you're more likely to get BV if:

  • You are sexually active: Having a new sex partner or multiple partners can increase your risk of getting BV. Your chances of developing the infection are higher if you do not use a condom.
  • You douche: Douching can lead to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, resulting in BV and other vaginal problems like yeast infections.
  • You have an intrauterine device (IUD): A growing body of evidence suggests that having an IUD may increase your risk of BV. Researchers think the presence of a string in the vagina or a foreign body in the uterus may fuel bacterial growth.
  • You are pregnant: You are more likely to experience BV during pregnancy because of hormone changes in your body.

What to do if you have BV

BV might not be an STI, but it shouldn't be ignored. If left untreated, BV can increase your risk of developing STIs like chlamydia and HIV, and other health problems like pelvic inflammatory disease.

The good news is that BV can be treated quickly and easily with antibiotics. Order a BV at-home BV testing kit from MONA for a same-day review by a licensed medical professional. If BV is detected, one of our medical experts will prescribe and send your antibiotic medication straight to your door.