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Handling bacterial vaginosis in relationships

Richard and Jola have been dating for about six months. The relationship, and the sex, has been incredible. They both feel lucky to have found a partner who meets their expectations and with equal sex drive.

One day, after a short time apart, because Jola travelled on a business trip, they met up for another beautiful lovemaking session. However, this time was not so great. There was a fishy odour that quickly permeated the room and dampened the mood. Richard turned away in disgust; Jola was horrified.

A quick trip to the doctor revealed that Jola had something called ‘Bacterial Vaginosis’. She tried to educate and explain the situation to Richard, but he did not display understanding or empathy. He made some hurtful comments about her personal hygiene and the relationship quickly disintegrated from there.

What is Bacterial vaginosis (BV)?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a bacterial infection. Healthy vaginas come with bacteria in them. BV happens when the different kinds of healthy bacteria in the vagina get out of balance and grow too much. BV is often caused by an overgrowth of Gardnerella vaginalis, the most common type of bacteria in the vagina. Other kinds of bacteria are sometimes responsible for the condition as well.

Women in their reproductive years are most at risk to get bacterial vaginosis, but it can affect women of any age. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention Report that BV is the most common vaginal condition in women ages 15-44. 1 in 10 women experience BV at some point in their life. Once it occurs, it is nearly impossible to prevent it from re-occurring.

The cause isn't completely understood. Anything that changes the chemistry of the vagina’s pH balance affects bacteria levels and lead to infection. Some of these agents include unprotected sex, multiple or new sex partners, perfumed feminine products or douching.

Symptoms of Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

The most common symptom is a smelly vaginal discharge. It may look greyish white or yellow in colour. A notable indication is a "fishy" odour from the vagina which may be worse after sexual intercourse. Interestingly, about half of women who have BV do not notice any symptoms.  Other symptoms of BV may include burning sensation, itching and coloured discharge.

Some popular myths around BV include its categorization as a sexually transmitted infection and the inference that it is caused by poor personal hygiene. This is far from the truth; it has been medically proven that excessive vaginal cleansing can be a contributing factor for the cause of BV because it disturbs the pH balance and bacteria in the vagina. Once the pH and flora are balanced, the vagina can cleanse and protect itself.

Steps to Handling BV in a Relationship

Every relationship is tested, and your reactions and decisions determine its continuity. When faced with BV in your relationship, here are a few steps you can take:

  1. Research. Information is readily available in this age and getting it will calm the initial tension and confusion that may ensue.
  2. Explain patiently and listen to your partner. Display patience and empathy. Accusations and hurtful statements will do the relationship no good.
  3. Visit the hospital together. Doctor consultations may be private, but moral support is encouraged.
  4. Support your partner to take all the tests and medication as prescribed.
  5. Rekindle your romance in a non-sexual way. While treatment is ongoing, sex is usually discouraged. Find other ways to bond and remain connected.
  6. Use positive re-affirming language especially if your partner’s confidence or self-esteem has taken a blow.
  7. Once clear, resume sexual activity like normal and make attempt to reinvent your sex life while being cautious to avoid a re-infection.

A simple infection is not enough cause to forgo a blossoming relationship like Richard and Jola above. All it takes is a lot of communication, information and of course, kindness.

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