Is Bacterial Vaginosis a Sexually Transmitted Disease (STD)?

Medically Reviewed By Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common and treatable vaginal condition. While it’s not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), it can increase your risk of developing an STI.

Sexually transmitted disease (STD) and sexually transmitted infection (STI) are interchangeable terms for infections that can be transmitted through sexual activity. Professionals in the medical community have recently changed to using the term STI, as “infection” is considered to be a more accurate description of these conditions and less stigmatizing than “disease.”

Infections can be transmitted through skin-to-skin contact with a person who has the condition already. They can also be spread through contact with bodily fluids, such as semen, vaginal secretions, or blood. Infection can progress to disease when the pathogens cause damage to your cells, causing signs and symptoms to appear. 

This article will use STI, not STD, for these reasons. 

This article explains whether BV is an STI. It also discusses what causes BV and if it can be transmitted. It also covers symptoms, treatment, and prevention of BV.

Is bacterial vaginosis an STI?

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Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common treatable vaginal condition. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, it can increase your risk of developing an STI, such as:

Sexual activity can lead to Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source BV developing. However, it is still unclear exactly how sex causes it. BV rarely affects people who have never had sex.

Research is ongoing on whether treating the male sexual partner of a person with BV affects that person developing BV again. Currently, there is not enough evidence to support this.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and/or “male” to refer to sex assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender.

Learn more about bacterial vaginosis.

Can bacterial vaginosis be transmitted?

It is not fully clear how BV is transmitted. However, it is more common in females who are sexually active. It can develop soon after intercourse with a new sexual partner.

Females who have female sexual partners may be more likely to develop BV. However, the exact link between BV and sexual activity is unknown.

A 2020 study Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source states that it may be possible for male sexual partners to carry the bacteria that causes BV on their penis. This may be a cause of recurring BV.

Read about if males can develop bacterial vaginosis.

What causes bacterial vaginosis?

BV is due to having too much certain bacteria in your vagina. This changes the typical bacteria balance in the vagina.

The exact cause is not known. Certain factors may increase your risk of developing BV. These risk factors include:

  • being sexually active
  • having a change in sexual partners
  • having an intrauterine device (IUD)
  • using perfumed products in your vaginal area
  • douching
  • not using a condom or other barrier method when having sex

What are the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis?

Some people with BV do not experience any symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • thin white or gray vaginal discharge
  • itching, pain, or burning in the vaginal area
  • a strong fish-like odor, especially after sex
  • burning when urinating
  • itching around the outside of the vagina

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor.

How is bacterial vaginosis treated?

BV treatment typically involves antibiotics. It’s important to take the entire cycle of antibiotics as your doctor prescribes, even if your symptoms clear quickly.

There is a chance that BV can reoccur even after treatment.

Can you prevent bacterial vaginosis?

It may not always be possible to prevent BV. However, you can reduce the risk of developing it. You may want to consider the following steps which may help prevent BV:

  • Do not douche.
  • Limit the number Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source of sexual partners you have.
  • Use a condom or other barrier method each time you have sex, especially if you have multiple partners.
  • Avoid having sex.
  • Use water and plain soap to wash the vaginal area.
  • Take showers instead of baths.
  • Do not use perfumed products in the vaginal area.
  • Avoid smoking or quit smoking if you smoke
  • Take probiotics, which may rebalance the bacteria in your vagina and help prevent a recurrence

Other frequently asked questions

Tahirah Redhead, MPAS, PA-C, MPH, has reviewed these questions people frequently ask about bacterial vaginosis.

Does BV turn into chlamydia?

BV does not turn into chlamydia. However, having BV can increase your chance of developing STIs like chlamydia.

How long does bacterial vaginosis last?

Once you begin a course of antibiotic treatment, BV typically begins to clear within 2 to 3 days. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics, even if your symptoms go away.

How do you stop BV from coming back?

It may not always be possible to stop BV recurrence. However, by using condoms or other barrier methods, avoiding perfumed products, and limiting the number of sexual partners you have, you may reduce the risk of recurrence. Also, fully completing any dose of antibiotics from your doctor can help prevent the recurrence of BV.

Summary

BV is not an STI. However, having BV can increase your risk of developing STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea.

The exact cause of BV is unknown. However, having sex can lead to the development of BV.

Females who have female sexual partners are more likely to develop BV than those who only have male partners.

Treatment for BV typically involves antibiotics. It’s possible for BV to reoccur even after treatment.

If you experience any symptoms of BV, like white or gray discharge, a strong odor, or itching, it’s important that you contact a doctor.

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Medical Reviewer: Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 23
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