Why Oral Sex Can Lead to Bacterial Vaginosis
What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis is caused by a disruption in the balance of healthy bacteria in the vagina. Types of bacteria that normally exist in small amounts begin to multiply, causing foul smells, discharge, and irritations that can become a daily frustration.
Scientific research has proven that sexual partners who practice oral sex have a greater risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV). It is possible to get BV without having sex. However, both vaginal intercourse and oral sex can increase your risk of BV.
How Can Oral Sex Contribute to BV?
Studies have shown that there is a strong association between receptive cunnilingus and bacterial vaginosis. Research is still being conducted to determine the extent of the connection, but this article about the association between oral sex and BV hypothesizes that the organisms that comprise the mouth's natural flora may contribute to a disruption of the balance of bacteria in the vagina.
Dr. Bryan Tran, D.O., and co-founder of the health supplement store DrFormulas, said anaerobic organisms that are commonly found in the mouth can be associated with BV. An overgrowth of these organisms can result in halitosis, periodontal disease, or gingivitis. "Therefore, receiving oral cunnilingus from a person with dental disease could increase your risk of BV more than from someone without dental disease," Dr. Tran said.
Some claims have been made that sexual partners can act as a carrier of bacterial vaginosis, i.e. a man who performs oral sex on one woman with BV can then transfer it to another. However, this theory has not yet been supported by substantial scientific evidence.
Did You Know?
More than 80% of women do not experience any symptoms of bacterial vaginosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Symptoms of Bacterial Vaginosis
Not all women have signs or symptoms of BV, but those who do may display any of the following:
- Gray or white vaginal discharge
- A fishy vaginal odor, which may be stronger after sex
- A burning sensation while urinating
- Itching, burning, or pain in the vagina
- Itching around the vagina
Discharge and fishy odor are the most common symptoms, while itching and burning sensations are much less likely to occur.
How Is Bacterial Vaginosis Diagnosed?
Your doctor will do a physical examination and may order tests on a sample of vaginal fluid to determine whether you have BV.
Causes of BV
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal condition that affects women of child-bearing age. Any condition that changes the balance of bacteria in the vagina can cause BV. Sources of bacteria that could potentially upset the harmony of the vagina include:
- The mouth
- The throat
- Gum disease
- The anus (bacteria resides both internally and externally in the anus, and is easy to transfer unwittingly while performing oral sex)
- Beer (which contains yeast)
It's always a good idea to floss, brush, and rinse any foods and beverages from your mouth before having oral sex.
Aside from sources that can affect the balance of bacteria in the vagina, the following may contribute to bacterial vaginosis:
- Unprotected sex
- Intercourse with multiple partners
- Antibiotics or vaginal medication
According to a study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, BV rates are higher in women who have a high number of female sex partners, and those who engage in oral-anal sex with their female partners or fail to clean sex toys prior to use.
Another study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases defined bacterial vaginosis as a sexually transmitted disease when it is spread by women having sex with other women. However, as it is possible to be affected by BV without engaging in sexual activity, so there is no consensus in the scientific community that it is a sexually transmitted disease in general.
Doctors aren't entirely sure how BV spreads, but the taking the following actions may help to prevent it:
- Avoid douching and bubble baths
- Have sex with only one partner (or abstain from sex entirely)
- Use condoms
- Take birth control (the estrogen leads to more good bacteria)
How BV Is Treated
Many cases of BV will go away with time. If it seems mild, try adding lactobacillus to your diet, either in the form of capsules or cultured yogurt. Many have theorized that eating probiotics can help stabilize your body's bacteria, although studies have been inconclusive.
If it does not go away with time, there are several prescription antibiotics that can help:
- Metronidazole can be taken orally (as pills) or vaginally to treat BV.
- Clindamycin is another common drug used to treat BV and other bacterial infections, and can also be administered orally or vaginally.
- Tinidazole, only available as a pill, is another drug that can be used to treat bacterial vaginosis and other vaginal infections.
Bacterial vaginosis is associated with an increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, post-surgical or pregnancy complications, and recurring cases of BV according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Therefore, it's important to see your doctor for his or her advice if you think you may have BV.
What If I'm Pregnant?
In many cases, pregnant women with bacterial vaginosis resolves itself without treatment. However, pregnant women with BV face a higher risk of miscarriage or preterm delivery, and should seek medical treatment right away.
- Bacterial Vaginosis - 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines
Bacterial Vaginosis - 2015 STD Treatment Guidelines
Patient education: Bacterial vaginosis (Beyond the Basics)
- Bacterial vaginosis - Symptoms and causes - Mayo Clinic
Bacterial vaginosis — Comprehensive overview covers symptoms, treatments and prevention of this common vaginal infection.
- STD Facts - Bacterial Vaginosis
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) Fact Sheet from CDC. What is BV? How common is BV? How do people get BV? And more...
- The association between receptive cunnilingus and bacterial vaginosis
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.