Although men or boys can’t actually GET bacterial vaginosis (BV), it’s the most common cause of abnormal discharge, and the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis are often misunderstood by women and men, so it’s worth understanding what it is and how it might affect your partner and your relationship.
Natasha from London recalls a time when her friend’s misunderstanding almost cost him his relationship:
“I happened to ask my friend one day how his relationship with his new girlfriend was going. He seemed a little upset and told me that he thought she was cheating on him. When I asked him what he meant, he said that he’d noticed a ‘fishy’ smell coming from her vagina when they had sex, and that he thought that meant she’d been having sex with someone else and wasn’t clean’.
When I explained to him that that sounded like BV and that it’s a really common thing, he was really relieved and they are still together! It’s important for men and women to have a better understanding of one another’s bodies and how they work, and as BV is not recognised even by lots of women who have it, it’s probably even less known by men and boys.”
There’s a number of vaginal health conditions that are very common, and BV can show no symptoms at all, but symptoms can include a fishy smell (that often gets worse during or after sex) and /or a lot of discharge or very watery discharge. If your partner tells you she’s worried about either of these things it could be that she has BV.
Is BV serious?
BV isn’t a serious condition, but it is worth treating as it can make other infections more likely or lead to complications. BV is caused when the environment inside the vagina is out of balance. In a healthy vagina there are millions of micro-organisms keeping things in perfect balance. One of these organisms, Lactobacillus, creates lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide which keep the vaginal pH slightly acidic and help prevent harmful bacteria from getting out of hand. If the balance of the vagina is disturbed, the body doesn’t produce as many Lactobacilli and BV can occur.
Things that can trigger BV include:
- Having sex without a condom – semen is alkaline and the vaginal pH wants to be slightly acidic, so semen can upset the balance and allow BV to flourish.
- Perfumed intimate spays or wipes, bubble baths and even washing powder
- Sex toys
- Heavy periods or hormonal changes around periods, pregnancy or the menopause
- Some antibiotics
- Wearing tight underwear or trousers
- The coil (contraceptive)
Open Discussions Can Help
If you and your partner can work out what triggers her BV she’s more likely to be able to avoid it coming back. She can also keep a supply of Balance Activ at home to help treat it straight away and to prevent recurring if she knows what sets it off. For example if you both notice a fishy smell after having sex, it could be that sex triggers her BV.
It’s important not to jump to conclusions. If your partner smells different, or is suddenly experiencing discomfort around her vagina it could be that she has BV or another vaginal condition. If she is unsure you can try our symptom checker online, which helps to identify some of the more common vaginal conditions. If you or your partner are still not sure what’s wrong, she can go to get screened at the doctors or her local sexual health or GUM (Genito-urinary medicine) clinic. When she’s sure what the problem is, she can get the right treatment.