Researchers do not know the cause of BV or how some women get it. We do know that the infection typically occurs in sexually active women. BV is linked to an imbalance of “good” and “harmful” bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina. Having a new sex partner or multiple sex partners, as well as douching, can upset the balance of bacteria in the vagina. This places a woman at increased risk for getting BV.

There is little research to suggest how sex contributes to BV or whether treating a sex partner affects whether or not a woman gets BV. Having BV can increase your chances of getting other STDs. BV rarely affects women who have never had sex and unlike other infections, you cannot get BV from toilet seats, bedding, or swimming pools.

Symptoms

  • A thin white or gray vaginal discharge;
  • Pain, itching, or burning in the vagina;
  • A strong fish-like odor, especially after sex;
  • Burning when urinating;
  • Itching around the outside of the vagina.

Risks

  • Having multiple sex partners or a new sex partner. Doctors don't fully understand the link between sexual activity and bacterial vaginosis, but the condition occurs more often in women who have multiple sex partners or a new sex partner. Bacterial vaginosis also occurs more frequently in women who have sex with women.
  • Douching. The practice of rinsing out your vagina with water or a cleansing agent (douching) upsets the natural balance of your vagina. This can lead to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria, and cause bacterial vaginosis. Since the vagina is self-cleaning, douching isn't necessary.
  • Natural lack of lactobacilli bacteria. If your natural vaginal environment doesn't produce enough of the good lactobacilli bacteria, you're more likely to develop bacterial vaginosis.
  • HIV infection, as BV increases susceptibility to the virus
  • STIs, such as the herpes simplex virus, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • post-surgical infection, for example, after a termination or a hysterectomy
  • BV also increases the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection and inflammation of the upper female genital tract that can have severe consequences, including infertility.

Treatment

BV often clears up without treatment, but women with signs and symptoms should seek treatment from a health professional to avoid complications. Treatment options for relief of bacterial vaginosis include prescription oral antibiotics and vaginal gels. 

Treatment may not be needed if there are no symptoms however, it's important to know that BV can appear and disappear for no apparent reason so keep an eye out for any apparent changes in how your vagina feels/ smells.

If there is an abnormal vaginal discharge, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor can diagnose BV and rule out other infections, such as gonorrhea or trich which are dangerous STI's and can cause infertility if left untreated. Furthermore, untreated BV can also lead to complications, especially during pregnancy.

Contrary to popular belief, men can contract BV however, male partners do not usually need treatment, but they can spread BV between female sex partners.