By Mia Abrahams
If the recent kombucha kraze has taught us anything valuable, it’s that not all bacteria is bad (and that kombucha will kost you like $6??). In fact, (now watch me segue from kombucha to your vagina here in a single sentence) like your fave berry-flavored probiotic tea, healthy vaginas actually are filled with *good* bacteria. But, throw that balance off, and you might have yourself a problem.
Our vaginas, like us, have a lot of different things going on — Pilates, keeping unread emails to below EEEK levels, maintaining a social life, and not letting all their succulents die from overwatering (or underwatering? Can someone help me with my houseplants?). To maintain this healthy environment, your vagina needs to keep a steady pH of somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5 — which, if you remember high school science, means it is acidic.
When your vagina is at its optimum pH, it protects you from infection by providing a comfy home for two types of “good” acid-loving bacteria (and yes, I’m imagining them wearing tie-dye shirts, too) that keep out unwanted “bad” bacteria and extra yeast, and keep the “good” bacteria from overgrowing.
How do you know if your en-vag-ronment is outta whack? Well, today we are specifically talking bacterial vaginosis (BV) — the most common vaginal infection for women between the ages of 15 and 44 (CDC). The main symptom of BV is lots of thin discharge with a strong fishy smell, which might be more noticeable after sex. Discharge might also be white, grey, green, or foamy, and you may notice itching or burning when you pee.
A quick poll of basically just women standing near me while I was writing this piece (hey! I never said I was a scientist) demonstrated that yes, it’s pretty common, and yes, it’s pretty unpleasant when you have it. “It was itchy and smelled weird, and when I went to my gyno — well, she found an errant condom left over from a previous sexual encounter [Ed note: leftover condoms *will* throw off your vaginal pH!] — and she put me on medication, but it ended up going away on its own.”
And, someone else added, “I get BV almost everytime I'm with a new partner.” There were also a lot of stories about panicked visits to the gyno’s office for treatment for certain STDs, which turned out to be BV all along.
FYI, BV isn’t an STD, but having sex with someone new, or someone*s* new might increase your risk — anyway having someone all up in your business can throw off your natural chemistry, ya know?
So, what do you do now? If you notice BV symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider or ob-gyn. They can diagnose you accurately (and make sure something else isn’t going on — because BV symptoms can look a lot like yeast infections, and a Diflucan pill *will* not help your BV). Usually a treatment of antibiotics will clear it up (yayyyyy medicine), BUT that doesn’t always help if you have recurrent BV, and taking antibiotics regularly can also cause yeast infections (fantastic!).
There are ways to keep your vagina healthy, and reduce your risk of recurrent BV. Planned Parenthood suggests that you take regular probiotics (but ask your doctor before trying new supplements). Avoid using soaps, deodorants, or perfumes inside the vaginal area, especially when you’re shaving down there! Soaps, especially antibacterial soaps, have a pH level of 9-10, so they can really throw off your natural equilibrium. Plus, you know, all the stuff we *always* say! Wear cotton undies, wear a condom if you’re having sex w/ someone new or not so new (just in time for cuffing season too!), don’t sit in wet swimsuits. With a healthy diet, and by practicing safe sex, your vagina is perfectly capable of being a self-cleaning, self-regulating machine.
Have you had BV? What did you do to cure it? Any remedies you swear by? Things we gotta try next time? Let us know in the comments!