Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

BV is an STI.


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common vaginal infection in women (and people with vaginas who don’t identify as women) of childbearing age. It causes a watery, greyish-white discharge that has a fishy odour, particularly after sex. It doesn’t indicate anything about a person’s sexual habits though – and it can be triggered by many factors.

However, BV can be triggered by sex. There’s no shame in having BV (it’s often mistaken for thrush but for people of reproductive age, BV is actually more common). BV is triggered by a change in vaginal pH, which can be caused by everyday factors. For example, people with vaginas are more likely to get BV if they’re sexually active (although those who haven’t had sex can also get BV), have an IUD (a contraceptive device, sometimes called ‘the coil’), or use perfumed products around the vaginal area.

Tips to stop BV from recurring:

  • Choose showers over baths
  • Use just water or a plain soap to wash your vulva
  • Avoid using vaginal douches or deodorants
  • Don’t use perfumed products and antiseptic liquids in the bath
  • Don’t use strong detergent to wash underwear
  • No smoking

Common symptoms of BV

  • watery greyish white discharge
  • a strong, fish-like odour (especially after sex)
BV can cause greyish discharge, like this

If you think you might have BV, but are still a bit unsure of your symptoms, you should get it diagnosed by a doctor instead of trying to diagnose yourself. The sooner you get a professional diagnosis, the sooner you can get the right treatment.

Things to remember when talking to a doctor

  • 1.
    You can ask for a male or female doctor
    You have the right to ask for a doctor of a specific gender if it makes you feel more comfortable.
  • 2.
    It’s normal to be asked questions
    Your healthcare practitioner will need to confirm it’s BV by asking you what your symptoms are. This is totally normal, so there’s no need to feel embarrassed.
  • 3.
    You can ask questions too
    Whether you go to your appointment with a parent or guardian, or by yourself, it’s a good idea to ask questions – you can even take notes if you like. You might want to ask things like:
    • Does my medical problem have a name and if so, what is it?
    • Which medicine or treatment is going to make it better?
    • What happens if I forget to take the medicine or don’t have the treatment?
  • 4.
    NHS appointments are confidential
    When you make an appointment with your local GP your appointment will be confidential.
  • 5.
    Reach out to transgender medical and support services if you need:
    People who identify as trans or non-binary can access specialist support. Search ‘Terrence Higgins Trust’ online for a directory of resources.

The first time I had BV I was so panicked but I went to a walk-in clinic and the nurse did a full screening … she was so calm and rational and had seen it all before and knew what to do.

-B, 29

Canesten Thrush External Cream 2% w/w cream contains clotrimazole. Always read the label.