What is bacterial vaginosis?
Simply put, bacterial vaginosis (also known as BV) is a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. A healthy vagina has a balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria, but various health and lifestyle factors can throw this balance out of whack, leading to inflammation and other uncomfortable symptoms when certain strains of bacteria become overgrown. Bacterial vaginosis is usually diagnosed with a quick vaginal swab that can be performed by your doctor and sent off to a lab for analysis.
Bacterial vaginosis symptoms
The following symptoms may be indicative of bacterial vaginosis:
- Lots of thin, watery vaginal discharge
- Lots of cloudy white or grey vaginal discharge
- A strong, unpleasant vaginal odour (usually described as ‘fishy’)
The symptoms experienced with BV can be similar to those experienced with various sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or thrush, so always see your doctor for testing if you experience these symptoms. Surprisingly, around 50% of those with bacterial vaginosis won’t have any symptoms at all.
What causes bacterial vaginosis?
The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is somewhat unknown, but it appears that those who are sexually active have a higher chance of developing the imbalance. It is quite common to experience a bout of BV after engaging with a new sexual partner for the first time, which could be down to the introduction of new bacteria into the vagina. Female-on-female sex is also believed to increase the risk of getting bacterial vaginosis. However, while BV is associated with sexual activity, it is not actually an STI.
Using a condom during sex can reduce your risk of developing BV.
There is also evidence that douching (washing out the inside of the vagina) can cause bacterial vaginosis, as it can easily throw the delicate vaginal flora off balance. Read more about douching and why it should be avoided.
Treatment for bacterial vaginosis
Conventional treatments for bacterial vaginosis can include oral antibiotics (metronidazole) or antibiotic creams or gels (such as Flagyl or clindamycin) that are inserted into the vagina. Unfortunately, BV can be recurring - about half of those with the condition will develop it again within 6-12 months of treatment. Your doctor will give you the best advice on treatment times and options for your condition.
Bacterial vaginosis complications
As well as causing uncomfortable symptoms, if left untreated bacterial vaginosis can have other complications such as:
- An increased risk of developing other infections, including STIs
- Developing pelvic inflammatory disease
- Pregnancy complications like preterm labour or miscarriage
- Discomfort during sex
Is bacterial vaginosis associated with menstrual cups?
If using and cleaning your menstrual cup as directed, it won’t cause you to develop bacterial vaginosis. This study by The Lancet notes zero reported cases of vaginal flora upsets after using menstrual cups. However, you increase the risk of developing an imbalance of vaginal flora if you leave your menstrual cup in for too long, or if you are cleaning it with a soap that leaves any residue behind. This is why we recommend only washing your JuJu menstrual cup with JuJu Cleansing Wash, or another wash formulated for menstrual cups.
Your menstrual cup may actually be able to give you signs that you have bacterial vaginosis. A strong indicator of bacterial vaginosis is if your cup develops an unpleasant odour that is difficult to remove. If your cup has a strong smell when you remove it, or a lingering smell, you should see your doctor to get tested.