What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?

While key factors associated with bacterial vaginosis (BV) have been identified, the exact cause of the condition is a mystery to doctors. An imbalance in bacteria normally found in the vagina is the main reason that the condition develops. Typically, the vagina contains more “good” bacteria than “harmful” bacteria. When the harmful bacteria increase, the pH balance of the vaginal region becomes compromised. Bacterial vaginosis is a common result.

Causes of Bacterial Vaginosis

In the past, bacterial vaginosis was called Gardnerella vaginitis because Gardnerella was the type of bacteria often identified as the cause of the infection [1]. Another type of bacteria associated with BV includes anaerobic bacteria – the kind that doesn’t need oxygen to thrive and grow.

Bacterial vaginosis does not discriminate. Any woman can develop the condition, but some activities and lifestyle choices can disrupt the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina. Women face an increased risk of bacterial vaginosis when they:

• Have multiple sex partners
• Have recently changed sex partners
• Have an increase of anaerobic bacteria in vagina
• Hygiene products made with chemicals that irritate the vagina
• Smoke cigarettes
• Douche, which changes the pH level in the vagina
• Use an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control

Additional factors that can lead to bacterial vaginosis include taking medications, such as antibiotics. Other prescriptions associated with the condition include oral contraceptives for birth control and steroids. Your current health also plays a role. For example, if you have a weakened immune system or diabetes, you are more likely to face BV.

Bacterial vaginosis is often viewed as a sexually transmitted disease, but women do not contract the condition in this manner. Instead of a disease that passes from one person to another, sex simply transfers various bodily fluids that have the potential to affect the flora in the vagina. Although less common, it is important to note that women who have not had sexual intercourse can still develop bacterial vaginosis.

Bacterial vaginosis is not contagious. Therefore, sharing the same objects with an infected woman does not transfer the condition. You cannot contract BV from toilet seats, linens, swimming pools, or from touching items close to such objects [2].

touch passes bv

[1] http://www.emedicinehealth.com/bacterial_vaginosis/article_em.htm
[2] http://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/stdfact-bacterial-vaginosis.htm

38 Responses to “What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?”

  1. Trinity
    July 17, 2009 at 5:48 am #


  2. Sara
    November 18, 2009 at 12:08 am #

    Another form of contracting BV is, & can be from having your partner perform oral sex with his/her mouth. All kinds of bacteria live in your mouth. Also putting your Vigina at risk!

  3. kim
    February 13, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    thongs, anal sex, oral sex, wiping from back to front..there are many ways.

  4. audrey
    March 5, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    Avoid SUGAR and BATH AND BODY WORKS is what my OBGYN told me today..I am going to try herbal remedies such as GARLIC, PAW D’ARCO and TEA TREE OIL and see if that works..have tried everything else. Flagyl doesn’t seem to cure this for me.

  5. Suzy
    May 7, 2010 at 7:32 pm #

    So we are all adults here, dealing with this problem has been ongoing for me for years. I hate it. The smell, the feeling, it is so obvious to me I DREAD the day I wake up and have that unwelcome odor when I go pee, or change clothes. I have read all kinds of things on this. It is depressing! It basically says my sex life is shot! I can no longer have oral sex, give oral sex then have sex (due to this supposed saliva possibility) nor can I have sex at all, not even masturbate (you and I know a little saliva is helpful for this,…. and now lubricants are risky too) I have also read when you wear pants (jeans) you should ALWAYs wear panties (I am a commando girl myself). You should use pads not tampons, careful how you wipe or even wearing a wet swimsuit, yadda yadda, the little “causes” go on and on… And I found some research on lactose intolerance, saying milk (lactose) has a major effect on your vaginal flora, and could quite possibly be a MAJOR factor in the “cause” of BV. It is all so frustrating! I am sick of Flagyl, I fear taking a round of antibiotics every month or so!! I have had this new drug called tindamax, very effective!! Horrible side effects, but I was cleared up and felt great, of course until my boyfriend got back (he had a long road trip) after a few days, I noticed symptoms!! It is all so god awful! Seriously, anyone with chronic issues knows… it is a horrible feeling to always have stuck in the back of your mind, when all you want to do is be normal with someone you love and have a nagging fear of BV creeping into your life!

    • betseyboo
      March 10, 2011 at 9:11 pm #

      homemade yogurt; simple to make and a lifesaver. you can get directions online and investing in a cheap yogurt maker is a good idea too. homemade yogurt has the freshest and most potent good bacteria you could ever find! I had a cup at night(to eat) and just massaged a little on affected area (i’m pretty squeamish so i didn’t insert any inside me) and the next day symptoms were much much better! You should probably stick to it for a while just to be sure. Also, the yogurt should be PLAIN!!! no sugar!!!

    • J
      October 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      Try boric acid tablets. Check w/your local pharmacy. If they don’t have it, you can make your own capsules. You can order boric acid powder and empty capsules on Amazon. I was on the nasty antibiotic cycle that you are/were on and this saved me. One capsule (between 500mg and 750mg) inserted in the vagina nightly for about a week works for me. Oh, and do it @ night as this creates a substantial watery discharge.

  6. kiilah
    July 13, 2010 at 10:38 pm #

    i always have a problem with bv after having unprotected sex… my dr. says its from semen… i know it’s weird, but that is what she told me… so i can treat it constantly but it will never make a difference… all it really takes is 2 to 3 times of having sex and i feel like the dirtiest, most nasty and smelly girl around… so you should talk to a physician about being allergic to semen that may be the cause… if they help you get rid of it be sure to post the treatment… I SO NEED A REMEDY FOR THIS TERRIBLE HORRID DISEASE….

  7. booboo
    September 26, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    Yes, the other comments were right, im actually suffering from an extremely itchy vagina and now anus, however had unprotected sex and yes it was vagina to anal anal to vagina, etc, etc, and im pissed:-(

  8. Bella
    October 1, 2010 at 2:25 pm #

    Plain yogurt insertion helps to get rid of it,by dipping a tampon into the yogurt then inserting it for two hours, works..you should do this twice daily for a week,and the results should be pleasing! So STOP SPENDING so much money on these expensive products if you can hurry & get in with a Dr. Ladies!!

  9. meko
    November 8, 2010 at 12:54 am #

    all i know is ivehad it for 8 months now and have taken 4 antibiotics, ate all the yogurt i can stand and have a negative std report and they still cant fix it. if anyone has a good way please let me know cause im soooo tired of hurting all the time. hurting all the time is making my emotions go crazy.

  10. bdjndynvd
    November 9, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    Also, masturbating with your shower head causes bv too!! But garlic n pro-b n clindamycin is a great cure!!

  11. Gvegas Dude
    November 23, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Well it is apparant that your boyfriends are carriers. The best and only course of action, other than removing sex, is for you and your boyfriend to take a strong course of AB, preferably Flagyl. When you are done, do as the nice lady above said above, “insert tampon with live bacillius yogurt twice a day for a week”. Have vaginal sex with condoms for the next week while your body is adjusting. Obstain from having multiple partners. If you do already have multi partners, they must be treated also.

  12. Terri
    December 5, 2010 at 4:02 am #

    I had bv for months, had taken flagyl many times. I was being treated by a MD, however after a referral to an OBGYN I was prescribed clindamycin ovules and I have no further symptoms. The odor, excessive discharge is all gone. I no longer have to keep my legs closed at allllllllll times in fear that someone else could smell that odor. I am a lesbian, and I haven’t had sex yet since being treated for the bv, so we’ll see how it goes, but for now I feel soooooooooo relieved.
    Try the Clindamycin ovules ladies it worked for me.

  13. esw
    December 10, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

    I have had recurring BV for 6 months and I feel suicidal. This is no joke and it is no way to live and I cannot believe this country doesn’t have better research. I am a very sexually confident person, I’m not a slut and I enjoy making love to my boyfriend, but I have been making excuses not to have sex because I am so ashamed and it is ruining my life and relationships. I have been using the metro-gel for nearly 2 weeks and it is still not working. I feel like my vagina has turned against me! I don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet, but alcohol is a HUGE reason that I think I keep getting it. Alcohol turns into sugar and lowers your immunity. DO NOT DRINK! Especially while using any treatment whatsoever. I think I’ll give up milk too. Hopefully this will help. I have recently turned to spiritual healing because I beleive that any time our bodies get a dis-ease, it usually is because we are imbalanced in other areas. Good Luck Ladies, you’re not alone, and we will find the cause and cure!

  14. lvl
    December 25, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    All similiarities with me. Currently taking tindamex and wondering if my partner should take my refill or get some anti-biotics too?

  15. Trish
    December 27, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    Try using rephresh … Is am over the counter gel and works to cure the odor until you can get to a physician . Make sure to urinate after sex and I use a Rephresh gel insert every three days or after intercourse to keep the ph levels normal …. Good luck ladies

  16. quill
    December 28, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    I have only gotten this infection after sleeping with a man and I have never slept with them again after being cured, my doctor said both partners must be treated for the cure to be effective & if u or ur partner is sleeping with someone else then there in lies ur problem. Most if not all of u r being reinfected by ur partner. It’s called the ping pong effect u keep passing it back & forth in the circle or between each other, everyone must be cured,

  17. Magdalene
    January 13, 2011 at 4:45 pm #

    Could un-circumcision be to blame? Please help!

    • alison
      January 25, 2012 at 2:02 pm #

      magdaline: I dont think so. While there are many causes incl. for women who are not sexually active at all, it’s impossible to know why. I think the more important question is not why you got it but how to heal and prevent it in the future–which is to say, focus on your own strong immunity, ph balance and strong health.

      Look at your nutrition, get rid of all processed foods in your diet, drink plenty of water and herbal teas, eat lots of fresh organic veggies and soups.  We can only be responsible for our own health and I find when I focus on that I have found my immunity is strong and when others get colds for example, I don’t. good luck!

  18. Juicy
    January 19, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    I been having problems wit bv for two mths, now im having very bad cervical pains and all my doc did was give me so more of those nasty pills!(help me)!!!!

    • betseyboo
      March 10, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

      homemade yogurt! it’s a very potent and healthy way to get live good bacteria. look up directions online how to make it; so far it’s worked great for me, eat a bunch (plain no sugar) and you can insert vaginally if you want. It will balance out your good bacteria

  19. Casey
    February 1, 2011 at 1:32 am #

    Wow I have been suffering from something I didnt know existed… I have been on depo shot for 6 yrs & never had a period & every1 said it may cause issues I thought it was a side effect from that… I never knew it was as big of prob 4 others i thought I was the only 1 till I saw a commercial 2nite about a product that tests 4 which kind of infection it is. I was like what theres more than 1?! Im so happy I now know & can find ways 2 fix it & that im not the only 1

  20. Kat
    February 1, 2011 at 10:22 pm #

    I understand what you guys are sayin but I am curious about something and I want someone to let me know if I am thinking crazy or it is possible. My ex-boyfriend now is a very big player and he cheated on me numberous times. I have never in my life known what bv was until I have got with him. Is it possible that he will have sex with another girl then come to me and have sex with me and I get bv that way???

  21. Tab
    February 9, 2011 at 2:05 am #

    I have been fighting with this for years and everytime I go to the doctor all they say is here is an antibiotic, Then I found an awesome doctor (woman) that suggested using Fem-Dophilus, I tried it and have not had any issues with this problem anymore. You get it at a health food store and you take 1 pill two times a day one in the morning and one at night it works, Also they have come out with a new tampon that helps balance the ph levels in women they are called brilliant. Try atleast the pills I know they work. You can also research it on http://misty-ocean.flywheelsites.com/product-reviews/fem-dophilus/ cut and paste that into your search bar.

    I think you will feel like a new woman

    Good luck

  22. CED
    February 9, 2011 at 11:50 am #

    I have had this problem for the past four years, and it drives my husband and I CRAZY. My doctor told me that there are two types of bacterial infections. One type contains a bacteria that your doctor can see right away and that only you carry. The doc gives you flagyl and then your outta there, only to return again. The OTHER type which we didn’t hear about until year four of this problem, is a bacteria that is found through lab testing and if this bacteria is present then it means your partner has the infection as well, but has no symptoms. Meaning, you get cured… and then he passes it back to you. If diagnosed with this bacteria they treat is with doxycyclin… just a thought for those w/ one sex partner and avoid all the other “causes”.

  23. liberty
    February 23, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    if you have been taking pharmaceutical antibiotics, either orally or topically, and the infection keeps coming back it may be because you are killing all of the good bacteria (which keeps the bad bacteria in check) and the bad bacteria has become resisitant to treatment. you need to kill the bacteria that causes the problem without harming the helpful bacteria. solaray makes a product called yeast-cleanse. it contains caprylic acid, pau d’arco, grapefruit seed extract, tea tree oil and garlic. all are very powerful, natural anti-fungal and anti-biotic remedies. the bottle says to take 6 pills daily, but i have taken 6 in the morning and 3 at night with no harmful side effects. also, mega dose on a good quality probiotic for a few weeks and then take a regular dose every day forever and ever. also, tea tree oil is a wonderful topical remedy. you can douche with 1 part pure tea tree oil to 10 parts purified water or if that is too irritating for you, whole foods sells a tea tree oil suppository. the relief is almost instant, although treatment should be continued for several days after syptoms are gone. as a maintenence, do everything you can to boost your immune system… probiotics, vitamins, supplements, excercise, lots of water, healthy diet… there is a lot of information out there on the topic of yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis and general immune health. do your research and look to the more natural paths rather than medicinal, if that path has been failing you. good luck. it sucks, i know.

  24. liberty
    February 23, 2011 at 4:02 pm #

    also… always use a water-based lube. sugar (in the flavored lubes) and petroleum are likely to cause infection and destroy the latex of a condom. silicone lube is fine to use if you are not allergic. and sex toys should be properly cleaned before and after every use. also pay attention to the material your toys are made of – you may be allergic. and never go back and forth between vagina and anus. if you have anal sex, that’s it. until he showers. a sex toy for the vagina is for the vagina only and so forth. do. not. share. and if you have a problem with bv, you shouldn’t be using food, sugar, syrups, etc in that area for oral sex.

  25. leonine
    February 24, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    @meko: have you tried a mixture of tea tree oil and water as a douche? I find that it works great for me when I have my recurring bouts. I’ll use it when I shower everyday for 7 days and problem solved. It works everytime. Good luck.

  26. moonweasel
    April 14, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    I hate to imply this, but I have to make others aware of my own experiences, just in case it will help anybody. HERE’S MY RED FLAG: this may not be so for all women, but was for me. I have ONLY EVER gotten this infection while seeing two different guys – not at the same time, I have never had multiple partners, I dated them years apart. But THEY WERE BOTH SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE. Be smart and don’t lie to yourself. Your man may be up to things he isn’t telling you, and destroying your mental and physical health while doing so. Make sure you are with someone you trust, or wrap it up. I have kept the blinders on in the past and used the pills and gel so much I now get severe pains in my side if I ingest either. Fack that.

  27. Kristi
    October 17, 2011 at 11:31 pm #

    I just found out about two months ago that I have BV I am 22 yrs old and seriously feel ruined for life. I have been treated with flagyl twice once with the pill form and once with the cream both times of getting off of the meds within a week or so i got it right back. I asked the doctors if my boyfriend should come in and be treated as well just incase even though they told me its non transmittable and they told me no he didnt need to get treated, but i am wondering if because he didnt get put on the meds if this is why i keep getting it back. I dont know what to do anymore. I am a young adult and i keep suffering from this one day i feel fine and the next i feel like complete scum. I am tired of smelling rotten and constantly peeing, I also have pelvic pain sometimes. I am going to try this stuff call HV BV Treatment it is over the counter you can get it at walgreens for 25.00 im going to see if this works and i will keep everyone posted. I just cant believe that this stuff is so common and nothing gets rid of it basically. I know I dont want to spend the rest of my days living with this horrific infection.

    • alison
      January 25, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

      kristi: how did the HV BV work?  I wonder if that is a homeopathic, I saw something like it but have not tried.  btw you are NOT ruined for life – just think of it as a puzzle or challenge, you will figure it out but for sure the answer is not with western medicine.  If I were you I’d invest in daily high quality probiotics, like femdophilus or another refrigerated good kind, drink lots of water, lay off processed foods and eat lots of vegetables and soups to alkalize your system. This (and many others) problem thrives in the body when we eat junk.  Also you might try going to a good acupuncturist/chinese herbalist.  Mine just gave me some potent herbs that I prepared and am doing douches with.  It’s not that annoying to do, (given the alternative of living with this!) you don’t have to do it for more than 10 days or so, and so far for me it is REALLY working.  They are strong herbs and I think any good acupuncturist could get this for you.
      Good luck and keep searching! these kinds of things can be a blessing in disguise as they can result in your discovery of lots of new knowledge about health and alternative healing.  

    • tonya
      March 10, 2012 at 10:32 pm #

      did it work for u….

  28. Amanda
    December 8, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    I went in for BV and they gave me a prescription of Metronidazole tablets and it has taken away the odor completely. I just got off them so I’m not sure if it will come back but I am so happy, there is no more odor and it seemed to have worked great. Ask your doctor about it cause it really has made a difference for me!

  29. Toya
    December 30, 2011 at 12:04 am #

    well i have had the same problem and the thing is that it always comes back i’ve been to the doctors for it about 4 diffrent times cause it came back it does go away for alittle while

  30. Michelle
    April 20, 2012 at 11:18 am #

    If you have recurrent BV and are interested in joining a clinical trial, please check Clinicaltrials.gov (http://www.clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT01437722?term=recurrent+BV&rank=1) for a research study site near you.

  31. amy
    June 25, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    I have had bv for about a year. My boyfriend thinks I’m nasty and have some kind of std but I do not I have been tested for everything multipal times.every time we get into an argument he throws it up in my face and I believe he will start cheating again. I just want my bv to go away. I feel so bad about myself bc of it. I have tryed taking the antibiotics just to have it come back..should I have my boyfriend take the antibiotic as well. Someone help me plz this is ruening my life!!!!

  32. Chloe
    July 13, 2012 at 2:50 pm #

    Have been battling with BV since January of this year, manifesting itself with pain in my uterus/ovaries, some light bleeding a couple of times after intercourse, and abnormal discharge (milky, watery and nauseatingly smelly – almost like something is rotting/a stagnant pond). I have had some success with taking acidopholus tablets, emptying the powder into the palm of my hand, adding a few drops of water and making a paste, and then inserting this into my vagina with my fingers. It gets rid of the odour within a few minutes, and lasts for a few days.

    After extensive research online, I am going to try to following:
    1) Take acidopholus specifically designed for vaginal health support twice a day
    2) Take folic acid supplements
    3) Start the day with a glass of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice
    4) Cut back on alcohol consumption
    5) Insert both a peeled clove of garlic (taking care not to nick the clove with my nails) and an opened acidopholus tablet in my vagina
    6) Taking a multi-vitamin containing copper, zinc, and vitamins a & e
    7) Continuing with drinking enough water
    8) Continuing to eat a diet rich in green leafy vegetables
    9) Drinking coconut water (very alkalizing)
    10) Getting Jikiden Reiki on my uterus and doing yoga for stress relief

    I am hopeful that a firm commitment to my health will make a difference. I have never dealt with anything so embarassing or alienating before – not used to smelling bad, and feeling disconnected from my vagina. Have had more than one sexual partner for the first time in a long time, and am quite sure there is a connection between this and BV.

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