What is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is caused by an imbalance of bacteria that naturally occur in the vagina. Many different types of bacteria are normally present in the vagina, but the predominant type is usually lactobacilli. Lactobacilli keep the vagina healthy by maintaining a slightly acidic pH (below 4.5, to be precise), which helps to protect against urogenital infections. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) only exists in people with a vagina. It does not affect men with a penis.
What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the natural acidity of the vagina is altered, leading to certain bacteria taking over. These are typically anaerobic bacteria (meaning that they can survive without oxygen), such as Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium vaginae, Prevotella, and Mobiluncus species. However, certain habits can cause changes in vaginal pH and increase the risk of BV. These include using soap or cosmetic products in the genital area, washing inside the vagina (douching), having sex without a condom, washing your underwear with strong detergents and smoking.
How is BV Diagnosed?
A healthcare professional can diagnose BV in several ways. For example, there may be a detectable change in vaginal discharge. Discharge in BV may be thin or thick, white or yellow, and might smell slightly fishy. Discharge in BV is not usually irritating and does not typically cause itching, redness or pain. Another hallmark feature of BV is an altered vaginal pH. Rather than the normal, slightly acidic pH, the vagina becomes more neutral (or alkali). A clinician can detect this by placing a small amount of vaginal fluid onto pH indicator paper. A pH above 4.5 indicates BV may be present. Finally, a sample of vaginal fluid can be viewed under a microscope, where microscopic features of BV can be directly seen.
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Can Men Get BV?
In short, no. Bacterial vaginosisis a condition of the vagina. Therefore, cisgender men, or men with a penis, cannot get BV. However, transgender men, or men with a vagina, can get BV.
However, penis-owners can have bacteria associated with BV on their genitals, which may contribute to or cause BV if they have unprotected sex with someone with a vagina. It is rare for women who have never had sex to develop BV.
Symptoms of BV in Men
Bacterial vaginosis does not occur in people with a penis. Symptoms in women include vaginal discharge or smell. However, BV can be entirely asymptomatic in women. Male partners of women with BV do not typically have any symptoms. If you have discharge from the penis, it is more likely due to an infection such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Get tested for these common discharge-causing bugs with a simple at-home urine test here at Yoxly.
Testing for BV in Men
There is no test for BV in men with a penis since this condition only affects people with a vagina. However, at Yoxly, we do provide tests for other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. Click here to see our full range.
Treating BV in Men
Since BV is a condition which only exists in people with vaginas, men are not typically treated for BV. Recent studies have looked at treating male partners of females diagnosed with recurrent BV (i.e. 4 or more episodes within a year). However, these have so far been inconclusive, and treatment of male partners is not currently recommended.
Is BV a Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI)?
No, BV is not considered a sexually transmitted infection; however, it is more common in sexually active people, particularly if they have had sex without a condom.
In conclusion, BV only affects people with a vagina and therefore does not affect men with a penis. If you are worried about symptoms similar to BV, it’s important to get tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and speak with a healthcare provider.