Hey guys! My name is Nina, and I’ll be sharing my experience and facts about Bacterial Vaginosis, also known as BV, also known as one of your vagina’s enemies.
A few years ago, I went to the gynecologist for a yearly checkup and STI testing. A week went by before she called to tell me that all of my tests came back negative, except that I have BV. Not only had I never heard of this before, I didn’t experience any symptoms, so I was really confused about the infection. I got nervous, as many of us do about our bodies, and started frantically Google-ing what it was (DON’T DO THIS!) Even though 40% of women get BV and many get it recurring, a lot of women don’t know what BV is, let alone know what causes it or how to prevent it, which is what I want to talk about today.
Bacterial Vaginosis is affected by the microbiome of your vagina – in other words – the bacterial community that exists in your body. There is a microbiome in your mouth, gut, skin, vagina, etc. The microbiome of your vagina primarily consists of bacteria called Lactobacillus. When bacteria other than Lactobacillus become more predominant in your vagina, then you have BV. It is not a foreign bacteria infecting your body, but rather an imbalance of your normal system. Symptoms can include an increased amount of unusual discharge (cloudy, white, creamy) and a funky odor. A large problem with BV is that it’s hard to diagnose and has extremely high recurrence rates after being treated with antibiotics. Another challenge is that many women don’t experience symptoms of BV, and if left untreated, BV can increase your risk for STIs like herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), in which BV bacteria infect the uterus or fallopian tubes and can potentially cause infertility. Studies have found that Lactobacillus actually helps protect you against STIs as it’s your body’s natural defense, creating an environment in your vagina that makes it harder for infections such as HIV to inhibit.
Doctors believe there are various causes of BV (things that can either alter the healthy pH balance of your vagina or kill the good bacteria, Lactobacillus) and they are:
• Vaginal sprays
• Washing with soaps or wipes that are fragranced or not pH balanced
• Semen in your vagina
• Spermicide in your vagina
• Unprotected sex
• Hormone changes from periods, pregnancy or IVF (in vitro fertilization)
What’s best is to think of your vagina as its own environment, with specific bacterial species that self clean and protect your body. When you begin messing with the natural state of your vagina, it can change and the “good” bacteria may not survive, resulting in BV.
Another interesting intersection is that BV also reflects health inequalities within class as well as race. Black and Hispanic women are more affected than white women, poor women are more affected than rich, and uneducated are more affected than educated. The reasons for this are not 100% clear but researchers have found that black and Hispanic women have a lower abundance of Lactobacillus, and therefore higher rates of BV, compared to white and Asian women. Black and Hispanic women also on average have a different vaginal pH to white and Asian women. There is a lot of speculation on why this is the case, but the highest correlation seems to be with preterm labor. Black women are 1.5 times more likely to have preterm labor to white women, and preterm labor is associated with lower Lactobacillius. It also could have to do with stress, which has multiple negative effects on the body.
So what is the biggest takeaway on how to have a happy and healthy vagina? Let it do its thing. Don’t try to cleanse and spray all the good stuff away. It’s there because it should be. One of the reasons why I love WIYB subscription box so much is that it samples products like pH balanced washes, probiotic pills with Lactobacillus, and vegan condoms to help us ladies maintain the very precious natural environment of our vaginas, because vaginas have feelings, too!
WIYB Box Babe
Senior, New School
Ma, Bing, Larry J. Forney, and Jacques Ravel. “Vaginal Microbiome: Rethinking Health and Disease.” Annual Review of Microbiology Annu. Rev. Microbiol. 66.1 (2012): 371-89. Web.
Powell, Kendall. “The Superhero in the Vagina.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 02 Nov. 2016.
Akst, Jef. “Characterizing the “Healthy” Vagina | The Scientist Magazine®.” The Scientist. N.p., 14 May 2014. Web. 16 Dec. 2016.