Bacterial Vaginosis - Causes

What is bacterial vaginosis and what causes it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common condition of the vagina caused by an overgrowth of various germs (bacteria). It is not just one simple infection caused by one type of germ (bacterium). The vagina normally has a mix of bacteria, but in BV the balance changes. It is not clear why this happens. As a result, certain bacteria multiply and thrive much more than usual. Some bacteria become much more prominent than they normally are.

BV is not caused by poor hygiene. In fact, excessive washing of the vagina may alter the normal balance of bacteria in the vagina, which may make BV more likely to develop.

Is bacterial vaginosis a sexually transmitted disease?

No, bacterial vaginosis (BV) can affect any woman, including those who do not have (or who have never had) sex. However, BV is more common amongst sexually active women than amongst non-sexually active women. No germ (bacterium) is passed on between sexual partners to cause this condition. Sexual partners of women with BV do not need any treatment. However, some cases of BV seem to be sexually related. It may develop after a change in sexual partner. In these cases, the infection is not caught from anyone. But a change in sexual partner may affect the balance of normal germs (bacteria) in the vagina. BV is also more likely in women in same sex relationships who have had a change of partner.

Who gets bacterial vaginosis and how common is it?

It is not exactly known how common bacterial vaginosis (BV) is. It is often so mild that women may not go to the doctor. It may be that as many as about 1 in 3 women have BV at some time in their lives.

You are more likely to get BV if:

  • You are sexually active. (Women who have never had sex can get BV too. However, it is more common in women who are having sex. You can have BV whether you have sex with women or with men.)
  • You have recently changed your sexual partner.
  • You have a past history of STIs.
  • You smoke.
  • You have a copper coil for contraception - an intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD).
  • Your family has Afro-Caribbean origins.
  • You use bubble bath.

You are less likely to get BV if:

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Author:
Dr Mary Harding
Peer Reviewer:
Dr Hannah Gronow
Document ID:
4203 (v41)
Last Checked:
30 September 2014
Next Review:
29 September 2017

Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Patient Platform Limited has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.