lesbian couple embracing in front of a solid pink backgroundShare on Pinterest
Lucy Valdes/Getty Images

Recurrence is quite common, so know that you’re not alone.

But experts aren’t entirely sure why some people experience bacterial vaginosis (BV) again and again.

It may have little to do with the person you’re dating and instead be down to treatment failing to clear up a previous bout of BV or new resistance to a particular treatment method.

Lifestyle factors, such as how you wash your genital area, may also have an impact.

It’s common to be confused if you’ve got BV again and haven’t changed partners.

Some people have even reported being told that BV is a sexually transmitted infection (STI) by their clinician.

But that just isn’t true.

Although sex with a new partner may increase your risk for BV due to a change in the balance of vaginal bacteria, it isn’t the cause.

However, it’s worth noting that BV can make you more likely to contract an STI, as it reduces your vagina’s acidity levels and lowers natural defenses.

No one knows for sure.

Douching, smoking, and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have been linked to an increased risk for BV, as has exposure to a new sexual partner.

So if you check any of those boxes, that could explain the recurrence.

But it’s also possible that an initial infection was never completely cured or that you’ve developed resistance to a previous treatment.

A study of people treated with a typical BV antibiotic found that less than a quarter (23 percent) were fully cured.

There’s even a potential link between recurrence and staying with the same partner.

Research has found that people who had the same sexual partner before and after BV treatment were two to three times more likely to experience a recurring infection.

It’s hard to say, as BV can go away in a few days all by itself.

But some people may need treatment for a week (or longer) to get rid of the infection.

Half of people with BV don’t experience any symptoms.

But if you notice vaginal discharge with a strong smell or an itching or burning sensation when you urinate, you can try the following:

  • Take showers, instead of baths, using water and fragrance-free soap to wash your external genital area.
  • Avoid vaginal douches or deodorants.
  • Steer clear of strong detergents when washing your underwear.

Remember that if the infection persists, it’s best to seek medical treatment rather than try to relieve symptoms at home. You may need antibiotics.

If your sexual partner has a penis, they generally don’t require treatment.

But BV can be transferred between people with vaginas, meaning that both of you may need treatment.

Seek medical advice if you’re concerned.

More research is needed about BV, so it’s hard to say for sure how to prevent it from coming back.

But there are a few things that may help lower your risk:

  • When washing your genital area, use plain soap instead of fragranced products. Showers may be better than baths.
  • Avoid vaginal douching —it can change your vagina’s natural bacterial balance.
  • When you have vaginal sex, use condoms or another barrier method, and ensure that any sex toys are clean before use.
  • Opt for underwear that’s lightweight and breathable. Cotton is often a good fabric choice as it helps to remove the moisture that bacteria loves.
  • Maintaining a slightly acidic vaginal pH with a lactic acid gel may help to stop the growth of bacteria that can lead to BV.

It’s quite common for BV to return.

Around half of people experience it again within 1 year of treatment. But some people may have recurrence in as little as 3 months.

In a nutshell, the exact cause of BV is unknown.

But changes to the balance of vaginal bacteria that leads to an overload of a certain bacteria is believed to result in the infection.

Doctors know that douching and other irritating vaginal products can affect the natural bacterial balance, which is why they advise against using them.

But research has found that you’re at an increased risk for BV if:

Antibiotics are the recommended treatment for BV. These can come in the form of pills, gels, or creams.

The infection will often clear up within a couple of days, but you’ll usually be told to take the treatment for a week.

If you develop BV more than twice in 6 months, you may be given a more long-term antibiotic treatment.

Although BV infections are often mild with some cases resolving on their own, it’s still a good idea to see a healthcare professional if you notice any symptoms.

This is especially true if you’re pregnant, as there’s a small risk of the infection causing complications.

A healthcare provider will be able to examine your vagina and test any fluid or discharge.

And if your BV recurs, they can help you identify any triggers and tweak the antibiotic treatment.

More research is needed to see exactly what causes BV and why some people seem to get it again and again.

If you fall into that category, know that there are treatments available and plenty of medical professionals who can help.

Most importantly, recognize that it’s not an STI and may have nothing to do with your sexual partner.

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.