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What are the causes of bacterial vaginosis?

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What is BV?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a bacterial infection that affects the vagina. The vagina has its own unique pH level and harmonious balance of good and bad bacteria. When this balance is disrupted the bad bacteria can grow uncontrollably, leading to infections.

How do you get a bacterial infection?

BV happens when there is a change in the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina. It isn’t completely known why BV happens, however there are things that can increase your risk of developing the infection.

Bacterial vaginosis causes can include:

  • Changing your sexual partner
  • Being sexually active
  • Having sex without a condom
  • Using perfumed products around and inside your vagina
  • Regularly having baths filled with bubble bath or shower gel
  • Washing your underwear with strong detergents or perfumes
  • Smoking

Can sperm cause a bacterial infection?

The vagina is naturally acidic and semen is alkaline, these different pH levels can combine and change the natural harmony within your vagina resulting in infections. Although BV is not classed as a sexual transmitted infection (STI), it can be triggered by sex, especially if you have sex without using a condom. After sex you might want to make sure that you urinate as this can help to flush out bad bacteria from your vagina.

How can you prevent BV?

Maintaining your overall health and practising good feminine hygiene, can stop you from having BV and other infections. Reducing the factors that increase your risk of developing BV may also help to prevent the infection developing. For example stopping smoking will have numerous health benefits that also include a reduced risk of BV. For advice about how you can quit smoking visit our stop smoking service page. 

There are other ways that you can prevent yourself from getting BV:

  • Having showers instead of baths
  • Avoid using perfumed soaps or shower gels to wash your genitals
  • Wearing cotton underwear
  • Washing your underwear in mild detergents
  • Not douching your vagina with water or using vaginal deodorants

Your vagina cleans itself with the help of discharge, this is secreted throughout your menstrual cycle. You might notice changes to the texture, colour and smell throughout this cycle. Once you know what is natural to you, you can notice any changes, which will help you determine whether you have a bacterial infection. Because your vagina cleans itself, to keep it healthy you do not need to use perfumed soaps or antiseptics, as these can affect the healthy bacteria and cause irritation.

Can I get a bacterial infection from oral sex?

During sex bacteria can be passed from one person to another, this is how STIs are generally transmitted. Using a condom during anal, oral and vaginal sexual intercourse and activity will help to protect against infections.

Can BV affect my male partner?

No, BV is not spread through sex and men cannot catch the infection from you. However if you have sex with a woman you can pass BV to your partner, or they can pass it to you.

Can BV cause you to bleed?

Similarly to thrush, BV can cause you to experience mild spotting, however any bleeding that you experience outside of your monthly period is considered abnormal and something that you should discuss with your GP, Pharmacist or nurse at your local sexual health clinic