The main points

  • It usually only happens in those who have sex. 
  • BV will often cause no symptoms. 
  • BV is usually treated with a course of antibiotic tablets or a vaginal antibiotic cream.

What is it?

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an imbalance in the normal bacteria in the vagina. It is a very common cause of an abnormal vaginal discharge. Many women will have it at some stage in their life. 

What are the symptoms?

BV will often cause no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they can include:

  • an unpleasant fishy vaginal odour
  • an abnormal, thin, greyish vaginal discharge
  • itching/irritation around the vagina.

How do you get it?

The reason for getting BV is unknown. It usually only happens in those who have sex.

You may be more likely to get BV if you:

  • have had a recent new sexual partner
  • receive oral sex
  • don’t use condoms with male partners
  • have had more than 5 male sexual partners in the last year
  • have a female sexual partner
  • douche or clean inside your vagina
  • are a sex worker
  • are sexually active and are a smoker.

Should my partner/s be treated?

Sometimes it is helpful to test and treat female partners, but other partners do not need to be treated.

How can I prevent it?

You may be less likely to get BV or have it come back if you:

  • use hormonal contraception, e.g. the pill
  • use condoms with male partners
  • have a female partner and she is treated if she develops BV

When can I have sex again?

If you have female partners you might be advised to not have sex until your symptoms have settled. You don’t need to avoid sex with other partners if you have BV. 

What will happen if it’s not treated?

If it is not bothering you, you do not need to have treatment unless you are:

  • Pregnant
  • At high risk of a sexually transmissible infection
  • About to have
    • an IUD inserted
    • an abortion
    • surgery to your vagina or uterus

Treatment is often suggested if you have female sexual partners.

What tests will I need?

Your doctor or nurse will take a swab test from the vagina to test a discharge for BV.

How is it treated?

BV is usually treated with a course of antibiotic tablets or a vaginal antibiotic cream.

Avoid excessive washing, as this can make any irritation worse.

Will it come back?

Treatment usually works well, but for many women it comes back within the next three months to a year. Treatment can be repeated.

Where to get more information, support or advice


This website provides general information only. The suitability of such general information  varies  from   person  to   person,  depending  on individual circumstances.   You should seek specific medical or legal advice for your individual circumstances.

Copyright © 

The copyright for material on this website is owned by Family Planning Victoria (or, in some cases, by third parties) and is subject to the Copyright Act 1968. We permit you to reproduce or communicate our copyright material if you are a not-for-profit educational organisation, for  the purpose of providing the information to your students provided that you include any disclaimers associated with that material.  Any other reproduction or communication of our material requires our prior consent, via our consent form which you can complete and submit.

Last updated: 5 June 2016

Contact us


Telephone: 03 9257 0100 or freecall 1800 013 952

Fax: 03 9257 0111

Can't find what you were looking for?