Sex

Can I Have Sex If I Have Bacterial Vaginosis?

It’s time for a vaginal health refresher.

Shot of a young woman suffering from depression in her bedroom
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The last time you learned about the pH scale, skinny jeans and side parts were still in — and you're due for a refresher on vaginal health. Whether you've been diagnosed with Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) or feeling a little off, having sex with Bacterial Vaginosis is likely on your mind.

According to Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert, BV is a common infection caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, which disrupts the pH balance of your vagina. The harmful bacteria arise from changes in your vaginal chemistry, resulting from having unprotected sex, having sex with new partners, taking certain antibiotics, or vaginal douching or washing with harsh chemicals. (It's important to note that changes in your vaginal pH can also just happen for no real "reason," and you can get BV if you've never had sex or aren't currently having sex.)

While some may never experience vaginal symptoms of BV, others may experience itching, burning, redness, and irregular discharge. Although BV is not technically an STI, Dr. Ross shares it can be mistaken as one because the symptoms look so similar.

"There are many infections of the vagina whose symptoms mimic each other, so determining the culprit can be confusing," Dr. Ross tells Bustle. "Ideally, it’s best to see your health care provider and get a vaginal culture and pelvic exam to make certain of the correct diagnosis."

Dr. Ross says that BV can sometimes go away on its own, but if you test positive for it, or if your symptoms are causing you pain and discomfort, BV can be treated with prescription creams or medications.

BV can often be recurrent, meaning you may need to treat it multiple times. Although most BV cases will not cause further vaginal or reproductive problems, Dr. Ross shares that if untreated, BV can make you more prone to contracting STIs and pelvic inflammatory disease, which ultimately can lead to problems with fertility.

"If you test positive for BV, it should be treated, especially if symptomatic," Dr. Ross says. "It's important to make your vagina a priority!"

If you're currently experiencing vaginal symptoms from BV, like burning or swelling, Dr. Ross says that having sex will likely make the discomfort worse. Even if you're not experiencing symptoms but recently tested positive for BV, Dr. Ross suggests hitting pause on getting it on.

"I recommend treating the infection before having sex," Dr. Ross says. "The treatment typically takes five days to be effective.'"

Because sex can increase your risk of contracting BV and further disrupting your vaginal pH, Dr. Ross suggests not having sex until your BV is fully treated. To ensure the infection is completely gone, Dr. Ross recommends getting a follow-up culture two weeks after your treatment is complete.

Once your symptoms clear up and your vaginal culture is negative for BV, Dr. Ross shares you should be OK to have sex again. Though you may want to look into the products you use around your vagina (like lubes and soaps) to make sure you're not putting irritants in your body.

If you're still experiencing pain and discomfort after treatment, Dr. Ross urges you to talk to your doctor before having sex. Even though you may be in the mood, getting frisky will likely make the pain worse.

Vaginal health issues can be stressful, but Dr. Ross reiterates BV is super common. If you’re experiencing some symptoms, booking a vaginal culture and pelvic exam can help you get answers and relief.

Experts:

Dr. Sherry A. Ross, women’s health expert, Lady Parts co-host, author, and co-founder of URJA Intimates skincare products for the vulva and vagina.