My girlfriend came back from the doctor and told me that she has something called “bacterial vaginosis.” Is that an STI? Can I get it?

Great question. Bacterial vaginosis, or “BV”, is a very common vaginal infection. The vagina is a complex ecosystem, and BV can develop when the “good” and “bad” bacteria in the vagina shifts out of balance. This overgrowth of harmful bacteria can cause cause strong-smelling discharge and discomfort. BV is treated with antibiotics, but recurrent BV is possible and can sometimes be difficult to treat. Be supportive of your girlfriend while she’s dealing with BV–it can be really frustrating! In terms of your own sexual health, here’s what you need to know:

Bacterial vaginosis is NOT considered a sexually transmitted infection, but the way that the infection relates to sexual activity is more complex.

Although it’s possible for people who are not sexually active to get BV, it’s much less common. Because of the way that BV affects the vaginal ecosystem, it can also raise your risk of acquiring other STIs. Unprotected penis-in-vagina sex can introduce bacteria into the vagina that can cause or exacerbate a bacterial imbalance and disrupt the vaginal ecosystem. If you have a penis, you don’t need to worry about getting BV yourself. Ask your girlfriend how you can support her: this can include using condoms in the future to avoid disrupting the vaginal ecosystem.

Sex between two vagina-having partners CAN transmit bacterial vaginosis, since the infection can be passed through vaginal fluid. If your girlfriend has been diagnosed and you also have a vagina, be mindful of any discomfort or changes in your vaginal fluid or odor and go to the doctor to get checked and treated. Using dental dams and condoms on sex toys is always a good idea, but it is especially important until your partner’s BV has cleared up.

Bacterial vaginosis can be uncomfortable and unpleasant, and if it’s not properly treated can lead to more serious issues. In general, you know your body best, and if you notice anything that’s out of the ordinary, bring your concerns to your medical provider!