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Bacterial vaginosis (BV) occurs when the balance of bacteria inside the vagina is disrupted, similar to how a yeast infection is caused by a fungal imbalance. In most cases, BV does not cause any pain or itching. The most common symptom is an unusual vaginal discharge.
What causes BV?
The vagina is naturally a slightly acidic environment. This is due to a bacteria called lactobacilli. Lactobacilli produces lactic acid and the resulting acidity prevents vaginal bacteria from growing and reproducing. Women presenting with bacterial vaginosis tend to lack sufficient numbers of lactobacilli, which means the vagina isn’t acidic enough to prevent other bacteria from growing. It’s this imbalance of bacteria that causes BV.
It is not clear what exactly causes the imbalance that results in bacterial vaginosis, although certain factors are known to increase the chances of developing BV. These include:
- Being sexually active, especially if you have a new sexual partner or multiple sexual partners
- Using an intrauterine device such as a contraceptive that fits inside the womb
- Using scented soaps, bubble baths, or antiseptic bath liquids
- Using vaginal deodorants
- Using a strong detergent to wash your underwear
Bacterial vaginosis may sometimes be grouped in with sexually transmitted diseases such as chlamydia or herpes, but this is inaccurate — even women who aren’t sexually active can develop bacterial vaginosis, and it cannot be passed on. Also, the rates of BV are significantly varied within different ethnic groups, which cannot be explained by sexual activity alone.
However, it is apparent that BV symptoms are reported more frequently by women who have intercourse regularly with multiple sexual partners. In contrast, the rates of BV are lower in women who practice safe sex with fewer sexual partners. Clearly, sexual activity has a role to play in developing bacterial vaginosis, although several other unrelated factors are also likely to be responsible. In any case, it’s always best to practice safe sex to avoid contracting bacterial vaginosis (BV) or any sexually transmitted infections.