Sexual Health > Vaginal Health > Vaginal Health - Conditions

The Facts About Bacterial Vaginosis

Here's everything you need to know about this relatively common vaginal condition.

Bacterial Vaginosis
Illustration by: Illustration by John Muñoz

If you've recently been experiencing odorous vaginal discharge or itching around the vagina, you may be dealing with a case of bacterial vaginosis, or BV.

While BV may sound worrisome, it is a common condition and can usually be successfully treated with antibiotics.

Learn more about what bacterial vaginosis is, how it's diagnosed and how it's treated.

Overview and demographics for bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal condition that occurs when too much bacteria forms in the vagina. BV is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15 to 44. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the condition occurs in roughly 30 percent of women between the ages of 14 and 49.

While BV isn't typically too dangerous, it can increase your risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). In some cases, it can also lead to unpleasant symptoms, so it's best to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.

What causes bacterial vaginosis

The exact cause of bacterial vaginosis is undetermined, but some studies indicate BV may be caused by penetrative sex.

A 2020 study found that when women had sex with men with bacteria in and around their penis (the penile microbiome), they were more likely to contract bacterial vaginosis. You may be at a higher risk of contracting BV if your partner is having sex concurrently with other partners, according to a 2016 study.

The condition rarely occurs in people who have never had sex, which suggests that the condition is linked to penetrative sex. However, women who have not had vaginal, oral or anal sex can still be affected by BV.

Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis

Most women (about 84 percent) with bacterial vaginosis exhibit no symptoms at all.

Some women may exhibit symptoms such as the following:

  • Vaginal discharge, usually a thin consistency and a white or gray color
  • Vaginal pain, itching and/or burning
  • A fishy odor from the vagina
  • A burning sensation while urinating

How to avoid BV

As the exact cause of bacterial vaginosis remains unknown, we don't know exactly how to prevent it. However, the CDC suggests that the following precautions may help to prevent BV:

  • Having less sex
  • Having sex with fewer partners
  • Having sex with someone who has sex with fewer partners
  • Avoiding douching
  • Using condoms

Treatment options

A doctor usually diagnoses BV by examining your vaginal secretion or discharge microscopically.

Once bacterial vaginosis is diagnosed, you will likely be prescribed an antibiotic tablet, cream or gel to help rebalance the bacteria in the vagina.

When to see a doctor

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, visiting a doctor is recommended to see if you may need antibiotics.

Bacterial vaginosis often comes with no symptoms, so it can be good practice to visit a sexual health clinic regularly for a checkup.

Risk factors for BV

Bacterial vaginosis can happen to women of all ages and ethnicities. However, some women may be more at risk than others:

  • Women who have sex frequently with multiple partners
  • Women who don't use condoms while having sex
  • Women who douche or rinse out their vagina with water

Home remedies

Some people have used a variety of home remedies to successfully cure BV:

  • Garlic
  • Boric acid
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Tea tree oil

While these home treatments may sometimes help with the symptoms of BV, speaking to your doctor about your treatment plan to make sure it's safe and beneficial is the proper course of action.


Bacterial vaginosis is an extremely common condition for people with vaginas. Most women experience no symptoms, but some women may experience vaginal discharge and discomfort in and around the vagina. The condition usually can be treated quickly and easily with antibiotics.


Is bacterial vaginosis an STI?

No, bacterial vaginosis isn't considered a sexually transmitted infection, even though it can sometimes be linked to having sex. BV can, however, increase your chances of contracting an STI.

How long does bacterial vaginosis last?

Untreated bacterial vaginosis can last anywhere from a few days to forever. It is also common for BV to come back after it has been treated.

Does bacterial vaginosis go away on its own?

Left untreated, BV can sometimes go away by itself in a few days. However, for some women, it can stick around for weeks without the help of antibiotics.