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Although many people think otherwise, bacterial vaginosis (BV) isn’t a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Any person who has a vagina can develop it, and there are a number of factors that may lead to such an infection.

Yes, exposure to a new sexual partner is one of them. But the list also includes things like smoking and douching.

So there’s no way that anyone can definitively say BV is linked to cheating.

No, BV isn’t considered to be an STI — even though some people have reported being told this by a clinician.

The confusion likely comes from the fact that BV can be associated with sexual activity.

For example, penetrative sexual activity can affect the natural bacterial balance in your vagina, leading to extra bacterial growth and eventually BV.

But there’s little evidence that the infection can be passed between people through sexual contact, so it isn’t on the STI list.

However, BV can increase your chances of contracting an STI, as the bacterial changes may lower the vagina’s natural defenses.

The exact cause of BV is unknown, but it’s characterized by an unbalanced bacterial balance in the vagina.

However, experts have found a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing it.

This includes anything that affects the vagina’s pH levels, such as douching or using irritating vaginal products.

You’re also more likely to develop BV if:

Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this. There’s still much more for researchers to learn about the infection.

From using an IUD as contraception to taking up smoking or even changing the way you clean your genital area, all of these factors can lead to BV.

Because of this, there’s a chance that you may not know why or even when you’ve suddenly developed it.

BV can go away on its own after a few days.

But if you need medical treatment, you’ll likely have to take a weeklong course of antibiotics. If the infection’s persistent, your provider may prescribe a second round.

Half of people with BV don’t have any symptoms, so you may have little to deal with.

But strong-smelling vaginal discharge and irritation when urinating are typical symptoms of the infection.

Although you should seek medical advice from a doctor or other healthcare professional, you can try the following at home to lessen symptoms:

  • Take showers instead of baths, avoiding perfumed products and using plain soap and water around your genitals instead.
  • Stay away from vaginal washes, deodorants, or douches.
  • Wear underwear made from breathable and lightweight fabrics like cotton. Some find that wearing no underwear at night helps.

If your partner has a penis, it’s unlikely that they’ll need treatment.

But the infection can be passed between people who have vaginas.

So if your partner has a vagina, it’s worth seeking medical advice for the both of you.

As doctors aren’t sure how bacterial vaginosis occurs or spreads, it’s hard to say how to prevent a recurring infection.

But there are a few simple steps you can take to help reduce your risk of developing a second bout of BV. (Most of these steps are similar to the ones you may have taken to relieve symptoms at home.)

First, it’s advisable to avoid putting anything that may cause irritation in or around your vagina.

This includes douches, deodorants, and perfumed cleansing products.

Instead, use water and plain soap to clean the area, sticking to showers rather than baths where possible.

When it comes to your underwear, stick to breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics, such as cotton, to avoid unwanted bacterial growth.

And wash underwear using a mild detergent, rather than a strong formula.

Finally, when having intercourse or any kind of sexual activity, ensure sex toys are clean before contact and use condoms or dental dams.

Unfortunately, recurrence is quite common, but it won’t hurt to follow the above tips.

If you’re worried about STIs, it’s better to book a test to put your mind at rest.

Symptoms to look out for include:

  • unusual discharge from your penis or vagina
  • pain when urinating
  • an itching or burning sensation around your genitals
  • lumps, spots, or sores around your genital or anus
  • pain or bleeding during or after sex
  • pain in your testicles or lower abdomen

Thinking that your partner has been unfaithful is a little more complex.

It’s natural to want to confront them, but try to take some time to think things through.

After all, your worries could be nothing more than a misunderstanding.

If you do want to speak with your partner, it’s often a good idea to write down the kinds of things you want to say beforehand.

You may also want to think about whether you’d like to try and move forward if it turns out they have been unfaithful, or whether the relationship will have to end.

Speaking with a neutral person who has little connection to you or your partner can also help you get things straight.

When you’re ready to talk, let your partner know that you’d like to discuss something that’s concerning you.

Try to set the conversation up in an environment that suits the both of you, whether that’s in private or in public.

Start off by talking about how much the relationship means to you, as well as honesty and trust.

You can then say that you feel there might be a problem in the relationship, bringing up specific examples if needed.

Try not to be accusatory and listen to what your partner has to say. But if something doesn’t feel right, don’t be afraid to press them on it.

If the shoe’s on the other foot and your partner thinks that you’re the guilty party, try to stay calm.

We tend to get defensive when we’re being confronted with something that’s not true.

But try to put yourself in their shoes and realize that they’re likely only acting this way because they care about the relationship.

Let them talk through the issue and then attempt to understand why they think the way they do.

For example, have you been paying them less attention than usual?

Or is there something going on in their life that could be affecting their emotional state?

“I hear you” is a good way to start off your end of the conversation. It lets them know that you’re listening and understanding where they’re coming from.

At the same time, don’t be afraid to let them know if they’ve upset you with such an accusation. Remember, it’s important for both of you to be open and honest.

Asking if you’re able to move past the issue is often a good way to end things.

It’ll leave you both with an understanding of where you’re currently at and clear steps to take to improve the relationship if needed.

If their concern is about contracting an STI, explain that BV isn’t an STI. And if they’d still like an STI test, be supportive.

Offer to go with them and get one too if you’re comfortable doing so.

Most doctors recommend booking an appointment if you think you have BV, even though it can go away on its own.

This is because, if left untreated, BV can lead to pregnancy complications, pelvic inflammatory disease, or an increased risk of STIs.

So any unusual discharge, itching, burning, swelling, or soreness around the genital area warrants a call.

A healthcare professional can test vaginal discharge and fluid for the infection and prescribe the right treatment, if necessary.

Treatment usually involves a course of antibiotics, either in a pill, capsule, or cream form.

Although much more research is needed into BV, the infection is most definitely not a clear-cut sign of cheating.

So if you or a partner do experience it, try not to blame yourself or others. The cause may have nothing to do with your sex life.

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.