Recent research by Balance Activ highlighted that while nearly two thirds of people questioned are happy to talk to their partner or GP about their health, this number drops when it comes to intimate health issues with less than one third saying they would talk to their GP and less than half saying they would talk to their partner. We spoke to Nicola who has had recurring BV on and off since her early twenties, about her experience of talking about BV.
When you first noticed symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, did you try to find information yourself or did you talk to somebody?
When I noticed symptoms, I thought it was an STI at first, so I had some general chit chat about it with my friends. This was mainly about my frustration about how it had happened and who I may have caught something from – I’m very careful with condoms. When things didn’t get better I started to worry and felt I might need some medical advice. So, I went along to my GU clinic for testing. I was so relieved when the tests came back negative for STI’s and they explained that I had BV and that it was simple to treat. I did share the information they gave me with my friends at the time – none of them had ever heard of BV, and I wanted to share what I had learned so that if the same thing happened to any of them they wouldn’t be worried like I was. I like to think that the more women can talk about BV and not be embarrassed, the better off we will be, because we can get the right treatment and fix the problem.
What changes did you notice that led you to seek advice?
The symptom that struck me as odd was the amount of discharge – in particular if I was walking a lot or had to rush for a bus. At first, I was worried that I was leaking urine because it was so noticeable and thought that I may have incontinence. But when I got a chance to investigate and realised it wasn’t urine, I suspected an STI. Personally, I didn’t have any odour but I know that everyone’s symptoms can be slightly different.
Did you try to ‘fix’ the problem at home yourself before seeking advice or information?
Not at first, as I didn’t really recognise any symptoms I didn’t try to do anything at home at first. It was only at the GU clinic that they gave me a leaflet that had tips and educated me on what can cause BV in women, and made me realise that I had started taking baths when I moved house because there was no shower, and that this could have triggered it. I hadn’t had a bath since I was a child as I have always preferred showers and it was the only thing that had changed in my life at around that time. I stopped using bubble bath and changed my soap, which did help.
Had you heard of BV when you were first diagnosed?
I was diagnosed when I was about 23 years old and at that time I’d never heard of BV, neither had my friends.
Would you feel comfortable talking to friends, family or a partner about your BV if it came back?
I discuss anything with anyone so I don’t feel embarrassed, I am quite an open person! I would tell my friends in order to educate about the symptoms of BV, or if they had it they’d know it’s not just them. I think women shouldn’t be worried about discussing these ‘taboo’ subjects. Thrush is quite well known among both men and women, but people aren’t as clued up about BV – I think men in particular could do with a bit of education about it.
On the odd occasion that I do get BV nowadays (reduced since I got a shower installed so I don’t have to bath as often) I use Balance Activ which I know clears it up quickly, and there’s not as many grumbles from my friends if I can’t go for or a drink with them because I’m on antibiotics!
What advice would you give to other women who have noticed unusual symptoms?
My advice would be not to ignore it, get it checked out – everyone gets affected differently and some of the symptoms of STIs and BV can be similar. People get so busy with work and kids, that’s why Balance Activ is a handy BV treatment to have at home, as it saves time making appointments with doctors or queueing in chemists once you know it’s definitely BV – it’s a lot less hassle to have something at home so you can treat it quickly.
Do you think that the taboos around vaginal health are lessening and that women are talking more freely than they used to?
I think Vaginal health will always be a taboo subject, but education in health and knowing your own body and its symptoms makes all the difference. With internet and social media so many women find it easier to google symptoms while on the train to work or speak to an expert online, which saves time and is good for people who are embarrassed to talk about it.
You have worked with Balance Activ as part of the Intimate Health Taskforce reviewing information for their website and symptom checker – what difference do you think these things can make to women suffering from BV?
Knowledge is control. The work that Balance Activ have done and are continuing to do will hopefully spread awareness about the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, and get the information out there so that women can have more choice of care and hopefully it will save them time as well. We live in a world now where many women have family and work to deal with and hours are increasing, so the chances of getting home in time for the doctors may be difficult. Balance Activ is moving with the times by making sure the advice women can get online is balanced and useful.
Nicola is now a member of the Intimate Health Taskforce, supported by Balance Activ, which aims to provide clear, accurate information about BV and vaginal health to women online.