STD Awareness: Is Bacterial Vaginosis a Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Not to scale: Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Gardnerella vaginalis under a microscope. Image: K.K. Jefferson/Virginia Commonwealth University

Bacterial vaginosis, or BV, is the most common vaginal infection among people 15 to 44 years of age. It’s caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria, such as Gardnerella vaginalis. A healthy vagina hosts thriving populations of Lactobacillus bacteria species, but when these “good” bacteria are crowded out by certain types of “bad” bacteria, the vaginal ecosystem can be shifted, causing BV.

There is a lot of confusion about BV. Is it a sexually transmitted disease (STD)? What are the symptoms? How can you avoid it?

All good questions. Let’s examine them one by one.

Is BV an STD?

The consensus seems to be that BV isn’t officially an STD, but even reliable sources have somewhat contradictory information. Planned Parenthood doesn’t list BV as an STD on their informational webpages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does include BV on their STD website, but also says that “BV is not considered an STD.”

On the other hand, the Office on Women’s Health says that “BV can … be caused by vaginal, oral, or anal sex” and that “you can get BV from male or female partners.” And there’s an entire chapter devoted to BV in the premier medical textbook on STDs, and its authors say that, while sexually inexperienced females can get BV, “the weight of evidence supports sexual transmission” of G. vaginalis, the bacteria species most famously implicated in BV infections.

The same webpage on which the CDC declared BV not to be an STD also says that it can be transferred between female sexual partners. Indeed, women who have sex with women have higher rates of BV. Since vaginal fluid could spread BV, partners can change condoms when a sex toy is passed from one to another, and use barriers like dental dams when engaging in cunnilingus (oral contact with the female genitalia) or rimming (oral contact with the anus).

What about heterosexual transmission? Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Is Spermicide Effective?

VCFAccording to the Guttmacher Institute, 0.5 percent of all contraceptive users surveyed in 2010 relied on spermicides as their contraceptive. Although not used often, they are a part of the contraceptive choices sexually active people have to prevent pregnancy. How effective are they, however?

The only available spermicide in the United States is nonoxynol-9. It is available in many products, such as a foam, cream, gel, suppository, or dissolvable film. Nonoxynol-9 is also the main ingredient in the Today contraceptive sponge.


Some spermicides increase risk of HIV transmission.


As a contraceptive by itself, it is not very effective at preventing pregnancy. Throughout the course of one year, and with proper use at every sexual act, 18 women out of 100 will become pregnant using spermicides alone. If used less than perfectly, that number rises to 29 out of every 100 women becoming pregnant. When used with a condom, however, the effectiveness is greatly increased. And spermicides are regularly used in combination with diaphragms and cervical caps. Continue reading

Can Yogurt Prevent Yeast Infections?

Yogurt has a reputation for preventing yeast infections. But is this reputation deserved?

Yogurt has a reputation for preventing yeast infections. But is this reputation deserved?

Yeast infections are common conditions that can pop up in many areas of the human body, including the vulvovaginal region. They are usually caused by a fungus called Candida albicans, which starts to grow profusely, leading to the white discharge associated with yeast infections. Fungi are not killed by antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria. As such, yeast infections may be encouraged when their bacterial competitors are wiped out by antibiotics — especially broad-spectrum antibiotics. Candida albicans can also grow on other areas of the body; for instance, when it proliferates in the mouth, the resulting condition is called thrush.


The Lactobacillus species in yogurt are different from those found in the vagina.


The vagina is habitat to bacteria from the Lactobacillus genus, members of which produce lactic acid and sometimes hydrogen peroxide. This helps to inhibit the growth of bacteria that aren’t able to thrive in acidic environments or in the presence of hydrogen peroxide. If you have a vagina, there is about a 10 to 25 percent chance that yours is home to Candida albicans — but this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll develop a yeast infection. The lactobacilli are usually able to keep C. albicans in check.

Yogurt is often touted as a cure or preventive measure for yeast infections. Yogurt is milk that has been inoculated with bacteria that have been allowed to grow. When the yogurt is being manufactured, it is held at a temperature that allows the bacteria to thrive; when yogurt is kept in the refrigerator, the bacteria don’t die, but they aren’t able to reproduce either. Don’t worry, these bacteria won’t harm you — such bacteria, when used in foods or supplements, are often referred to as “probiotics.” Continue reading