Dear Doorly Doctor: Could I have BV (and is that an STD?)

We’re bringing back the sealed section. This issue, a doctor answers readers’ most candid(a) sex questions.

Q. I recently had sex with someone new and I feel like things have been a little off since then. Could I have BV? Is that an STD? (And what do all these acronyms mean?) My friend mentioned that it might cause infertility and now I’m freaking out. – NQR, Perth

A. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is actually the most common cause of vaginal discharge in women of childbearing age. 50-75% of women with BV have no symptoms at all, but women that do get symptoms may experience thin off-white/grey vaginal discharge that is often reported as ‘fishy’ smelling. Interestingly, people often notice the smell after sex or during their period. If you are worried but are not symptomatic, you should speak to your doctor at your next sexual health check-up and she/he can take a swab during your next pap smear.

So what is BV? The vagina, like the gut, is full of good bacteria that enable it to self-clean. In bacterial vaginosis (BV), the natural flora of the vagina is disturbed and the good bacteria ends up outnumbered by other bacteria. The cause of this change in bacteria is still not properly understood, but whilst it isn’t really a sexually transmissible infection, it is thought that sexual activity could be one of the causes. BV can be treated with antibiotics.

BV itself isn’t linked with infertility, but you may be thinking about pelvic inflammatory disease (PID). PID is an infection higher up in the reproductive system, in the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries, and if left untreated, it can cause infertility. The majority of PID (85%) is caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as Chlamydia or Gonorrhoea — which are treatable. So, if you feel like anything is NQR — go get it checked out so you can get yourself treated!

– Dr Jessica Dean (She’s founder of the Nookie Project, a director of beyondblue, and doctor at Monash Health in Melbourne.)