By Vera Papisova
Every month after my period ends, I inspect the discharge in my underwear. I pray that the smell is just musky, which means healthy, and not fishy, which means my bacterial vaginosis, otherwise known as BV, is back.
If I choose to ignore any sign that my BV has returned, me and #mycalvins are doomed. By day two the intense aroma will turn into an intense itch, which will only get worse the more I itch. Sex will also become painful, and by day five all of the friction caused by my itching means that I’ll be severely sore to the touch. I will feel bruised, and within 20 minutes of showering, my underwear will, once again, be soaked through with discharge.
The first time this happened to me was two years ago. I was 23 and about to go on a weekend trip with my new boyfriend. I had never heard of BV, and by the fifth day I misdiagnosed myself with a yeast infection. I didn’t want to wait for a doctor, so the night before my trip, I went to CVS and spent $30 on Monistat 1. I applied it before I went to bed, and the next morning, I woke up in some of the worst pain of my life. It was like being stung by a 1,000 wasps. My vagina spent the weekend expelling the Monistat and ruining five pairs of cotton panties. I spent the weekend running to the bathroom every hour to apply Vagisil — it barely helped.
When I got back to the city, I visited a doctor and told her about my nightmarish weekend. She told me that most of her patients have similar stories about confusing their bacterial vaginosis (BV) for a yeast infection — and erroneously using Monistat. This was the first time I’d ever heard of BV, which is probably because no one talks about it. Well, I’m going to talk about it.
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
BV is the most common vaginal infection for people with vaginas aged 15-44. It’s not an STI or STD (although the CDC groups it as such), and though rare, you can even get BV if you have never had sex. The CDC says BV is “an imbalance of ‘good’ and ‘harmful’ bacteria that are normally found in a woman’s vagina.” Basically, the “bad” bacteria increases, and the “good” stuff decreases. It’s not contagious, and you can’t get it from toilet seats, towels, or gym equipment.
Bacterial Vaginosis Causes
It’s not known what causes BV, but it is known that having a new sexual partner, multiple sexual partners, or douching, can contribute. For some people, having sex with just one person can throw their pH balance off and cause BV, while others can have multiple partners and remain perfectly balanced.
How I Dealt with BV
My doctor put me on antibiotics, and after two days, the smell and itch faded. After four days, most of the symptoms were gone. After I finished the full seven-day course of antibiotics, I got an actual yeast infection. (Is this a sick joke? No, this is my life.) After another trip to the doctor, and one more pill (yeast infections are treated with a single dose of Diflucan), my vagina was healthy and happy again.
Medically, BV is considered recurrent when someone gets it four times in one year. After this incident, I got BV every single month, the day after my period, for 19 months. I went to countless gynecologists during the first few months I got BV after periods, and they all told me the same thing: there is no known cause or prevention for BV.
So I start researching. I bought books, spoke to more doctors, and called friends who told me they’ve experienced a bout or two with BV, as well. I learned about the “good” and the “bad” bacteria that was messing with my vagina. I learned that if you get a yeast infection after being on an antibiotic it’s because antibiotics kill all bacteria, and this makes your vagina more susceptible to getting an overgrowth of yeast.
After taking antibiotics every month for almost a year, I tried changing my birth control to see if hormones are the cause. I still got BV. I tried abstaining from sex, and I still got BV. A nurse told me I can try placing a raw garlic clove in my vagina, and that didn’t work either. I even tried douching with apple cider vinegar. It temporarily got rid of the smell and the discharge, but a week later, I got the worst case of BV ever. I tried tea tree oil baths. I tried a tampon soaked in greek yogurt, which alleviated the itching, but not the actual issue. I tried going to a nutritionist and changing my diet to exclude certain foods, and upped my intake of fermented products (like the drink Kombucha) — that didn’t work, either.
Finally, How to Get Rid of BV (Forever?)
After so much trial and error, I finally found a remedy. Probiotics. In the same way eating Greek yogurt while on antibiotics may help prevent yeast infections, taking daily probiotics may help build up your good bacteria and prevent an overgrowth of bad bacteria, which can ultimately prevent BV.
The only way I’ve been able to get rid of BV is to take daily probiotics. After about two to three months of consistently doing this, I stopped getting BV for good. So, if you are suffering from BV, skip the at-home remedies you found on Google. I’ve already tried them all for you, and they don’t work. Instead, educate yourself about your vaginal health — you’ll be surprised by how much they left out in health class. And do your own research. Talk to your doctor about starting a daily regimen of probiotics. If it helped my vagina, maybe it can help yours too.