Primary Care

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) and sex: common misconceptions

Before you get frisky, here’s what to know about BV and sex. Plus, how to get BV medication online through a Dr. B health assessment.
a young black woman with an afro is laying on the edge of a bed embracing a black man who is sitting on the floor staring up at her

Key Points:

  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is not a sexually transmitted infection. But it is more common in people who are sexually active and those who have multiple sex partners.
  • Bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of some kinds of bacteria in the vagina. You can’t “catch” BV because the bacteria are already present in most vaginas.
  • You can reduce bacterial vaginosis risk by practicing safe sex and following good hygiene practices. These include not douching or using harsh soaps in the genital area.

There’s a lot of confusion about bacterial vaginosis and sex.

On the one hand, bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). The bacteria that cause BV are naturally present in a healthy vagina. And it’s possible to get BV even if you don’t have sex.

On the other hand, bacterial vaginosis is more common in people who are sexually active and those who have multiple sex partners. It’s also possible to spread the bacteria between sex partners. This is especially true during sex amongst people with vaginas.

Effective bacterial vaginosis treatments can help stop uncomfortable vaginal symptoms in their tracks. There are also ways to lower risk while also protecting yourself during sex.

Read on for the BV basics. And keep scrolling to learn how you can get a bacterial vaginosis prescription online through Dr. B’s health services.

What is bacterial vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis happens when there’s an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the vagina.

A healthy vagina usually has a lot of Lactobacillus bacteria. If there aren’t enough, other types of harmful bacteria may grow.

The imbalance causes undesirable symptoms of bacterial vaginosis. BV symptoms include a strong vaginal smell (often a fishy vaginal odor), vaginal itching, burning with urination and thin white discharge. If you notice any of these (or other vaginal discharge or odors), contact a medical provider.

How does bacterial vaginosis spread?

Researchers aren’t sure what causes the wrong kinds of bacteria to grow and spread in the vagina. But some activities increase the odds. Bacterial vaginosis is more likely in people who:

  • Have a new sex partner or multiple sex partners
  • Douche or use potentially irritating vaginal products
  • Have unprotected sex
  • Smoke
  • Were assigned female at birth (AFAB) and have sex with other AFAB people (including women who have sex with women)

You can’t catch bacterial vaginosis like you might catch a cold or strep throat. Some of the ways that BV is not spread include:

  • Sharing bed linens
  • Swimming in pools or hot tubs
  • Touching the same surface as someone with BV
  • Being near someone who has BV

What to know about bacterial vaginosis and sex

Bacterial vaginosis is not a sexually transmitted infection. And BV can occur in people who are not sexually active—though that’s less common.

BV is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria typically found in the vagina. It’s not caused by a new bacteria or organism introduced during sex. But it’s possible to spread bacteria during intercourse. The more sex partners you have, the more likely that spread is.

One study found that about 18% of women who were not sexually active developed BV. In comparison, BV was found in 22% of women with one lifetime partner, 43% of women with two to three lifetime partners and 58% with four or more lifetime partners.

The study also found that risk is higher in AFAB people who have sex with other AFAB people—45% compared to 29% of participants who stated they had never had sex with a female partner.

Bacterial vaginosis and birth control

Latex condoms and dental dams can help prevent BV. They can prevent the spread of harmful bacteria between partners. And block semen from entering the vagina. (Semen is alkaline and can raise the pH of the vagina, making it easier for harmful bacteria to grow.)

Some research shows that BV is more common in people who use an intrauterine device (IUD). This is especially true with the copper IUD. This is because copper IUDs can increase bleeding. And bleeding can alter the pH of the vagina, creating a friendly environment for harmful bacteria.

Other studies show a link between hormonal birth control and reduced rates of BV.  This is because hormonal birth control often reduces vaginal bleeding.

Bacterial vaginosis and men

People assigned male at birth (AMAB) and other people with penises can carry the bacteria involved in bacterial vaginosis. But BV won’t create any problems for them.

Generally, people with penises do not need to get treated if their partner has BV. But if a partner has recurrent BV, some evidence suggests that treating the AMAB partner can help reduce further infections.

Banner advertising Dr. B's services for bacterial vaginosis treatments

Treatment options for bacterial vaginosis

The good news is that bacterial vaginosis is treatable with antibiotics! The bad news is that it often comes back.

You can reduce your risk by combining BV prescription antibiotics with safe sex practices and good hygiene. This includes using condoms, limiting your number of sex partners and avoiding harsh soaps or other potentially irritating vaginal products.

If you struggle with BV that comes back, talk to your medical provider about other BV medicine options. Recurrent BV can be treated with long-term antibiotics. It may also help to take BV pills with a probiotic supplement and/or another form of birth control.

Need more help understanding available BV treatment options? Want to learn how to treat BV online? Start a health assessment with Dr. B.

We’ll connect you with a board-certified medical provider to discuss bacterial vaginosis treatment online. If the provider feels a BV pill or other medication is appropriate, they’ll call the prescription into your chosen pharmacy. You can ask further questions about your BV prescription online through your patient dashboard.


Abou Chacra, L., et al. (2022). Bacterial vaginosis: what do we currently know?. Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). Bacterial vaginosis - STI treatment guidelines.

Goje, O. (2021). Bacterial vaginosis (BV) - gynecology and obstetrics. Merck Manuals Professional Edition.

Joseph, R. J., et al. (2021). Finding a balance in the vaginal microbiome: how do we treat and prevent the occurrence of bacterial vaginosis?. Antibiotics.

Hutchinson, K.B., et al. (2007). Condom use and its association with bacterial vaginosis and bacterial vaginosis-associated vaginal microflora. Epidemiology.

Koumans, E.H., et al. (2007). The prevalence of bacterial vaginosis in the United States, 2001-2004; associations with symptoms, sexual behaviors, and reproductive health. Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Madden, T., et al. (2012). Risk of bacterial vaginosis in users of the intrauterine device: a longitudinal study. Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Peebles, K., et al. (2021). Elevated risk of bacterial vaginosis among users of the copper intrauterine device: a prospective longitudinal cohort study. Clinical Infectious Diseases.

Vodstrcil, L. A., et al. (2021). Bacterial vaginosis: drivers of recurrence and challenges and opportunities in partner treatment. BMC Medicine.

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