Can Men Get Bacterial Vaginosis?

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

The terms "men" and "male" are used in this article to refer to people who identify as men and have the typical reproductive organs of a cisgender man. We recognize that some people who identify as men do not have the same anatomy as that depicted in this article.

Bacterial vaginosis (also known as BV) is a common, treatable vaginal infection. BV happens when the balance of normal bacteria in the vagina is thrown off by an activity like douching or having condomless sex. This leads to an infection that can cause discharge and irritation.

Because BV affects the vagina, people with a penis can't get it. However, research suggests that men can play a role in transmitting this infection to their female sexual partners, likely due to bacteria that live on the penis.

This article provides an overview of bacterial vaginosis and outlines the ways that male sexual partners may contribute to this infection.

Female nurse explaining to young male patient at office in hospital

Maskot / Getty Images

What Causes Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis is the result of an imbalance of bacteria that naturally live in the vagina.

This environment of bacteria—which includes "healthy" (beneficial) and "unhealthy" (unbeneficial) bacteria—is sometimes referred to as vaginal flora. When disturbed, harmful bacteria strains overgrow and cause an infection.

Experts are still researching what exactly causes this imbalance in BV infections. But they do know that certain activities related to personal hygiene and sexual activity can impact the vaginal flora and potentially increase the risk of developing BV. These lifestyle factors include:

Early research indicates that genetics may play some part in a person's risk for developing BV, though more evidence is needed.

Can Men Spread BV?

Experts are still exploring exactly how bacterial vaginosis is transmitted, but there is evidence that men play a part in transmission to their female sexual partners.

Just like the vaginal environment, naturally occurring bacteria live on the penis and the male urinary tract. If there are BV-related bacteria present, it's possible that it can be transmitted to a female partner during sex.

Some research points out that BV infections may be particularly likely in people whose male partners have an uncircumcised penis, likely due to the bacteria-friendly environment under the foreskin.

Is BV an STI?

Even though BV is linked to sexual activity, experts don't consider it to be a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Still, having BV can increase your risk of getting other STIs, so it's a good idea to follow safer-sex practices, such as using a condom consistently.

What Conditions Cause Similar Symptoms in Men?

Bacterial vaginosis isn't possible in men, but there are other conditions that cause similar symptoms like discharge, irritation, and painful urination.


Penile thrush is a yeast infection on the penis. 

It happens when a naturally occurring yeast known as Candida albicans overgrows on the penis. This can lead to symptoms like discharge, pain with urination, and itchiness. Although penile thrush doesn't meet the criteria to be considered an STI, the fungus can still be transmitted through sexual contact.


STIs are transmitted primarily through sexual contact with another person who has the infection.

Some STIs in men cause symptoms that are similar to bacterial vaginosis, like discharge and irritation around the genital area. They include:

Consistently practicing safer sex can help prevent STIs.


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in males typically happen when bacteria enter the urinary tract and grow in the bladder, though sometimes they can be caused by viruses. Symptoms usually include discharge from the penis and pain, burning, or irritation while urinating. 

There are several risk factors for developing a UTI, including having unprotected sex.


Balanitis is a condition that causes inflammation on the head of the penis. Many people notice discharge, itchiness, and pain during urination.

Balanitis is not transmitted through sex. It's more common in people who have uncircumcised penises. Other factors can also increase your chance of getting balanitis, such as poor personal hygiene and exposure to chemical irritants.

Common BV Symptoms

BV doesn't always cause noticeable symptoms, but it's common to experience symptoms such as:

  • Thin white or gray vaginal discharge that may smell particularly unpleasant
  • Pain, irritation, or itchiness inside the vagina
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Itching around the vagina


BV is common. It affects roughly 21 million people in the United States each year. Fortunately, there are some steps that may help prevent this infection from forming.

Experts recommend:

  • Not douching
  • Consistently using condoms
  • Avoiding feminine sprays, irritating soaps, and scented tampons
  • Wearing breathable cotton underwear and loose workout clothes
  • Wiping from front to back after urinating 
  • Considering another form of contraception other than IUDs if you're prone to BV infections


Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common infection that occurs when there’s a change in the vagina’s normal bacterial balance. The exact cause of BV isn't clear, but it's more likely to develop with activities that disrupt the vagina's bacterial environment, such as douching, new or multiple sexual partners, IUD use, and not using condoms consistently.

While men can't contract BV, they can play a role in their female sexual partners' BV infections by transmitting bacteria present in the genital area. Experts are still researching the reasons behind how and why this may occur.

A Word From Verywell

Bacterial vaginosis is a very common vaginal infection, so you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed if it develops. Be sure to seek a BV diagnosis and treatment with a healthcare provider, if accessible to you, because BV is linked to an increased risk of developing STIs, urinary infections, and pregnancy complications. 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does a male partner need to be treated for BV?

    There are no treatment options for male partners of a person with BV. Some studies have looked into potential antibiotic treatments for male sexual partners of a person with recurring BV, but more research is needed.

  • Can my boyfriend give me BV?

    It appears that male partners can play a role in your BV infection. Studies suggest that male sexual partners with BV-related bacteria around their penis increase their female sexual partner's chances of developing the infection. These chances may be greater in male partners who are uncircumcised.

  • Why do I keep getting BV with my partner?

    It’s pretty common to get a recurring BV infection with the same sexual partner, even if you receive treatment. Experts can’t say for sure why this happens. It could be because the antibiotics didn’t completely clear the infection in the first place, or this same bacterium has been reintroduced to you from your partner or another source.

23 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mehta SD, Zhao D, Green SJ. The microbiome composition of a man's penis predicts incident bacterial vaginosis in his female sex partner with high accuracy. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2020;10:433. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2020.00433

  2. Onderdonk AB, Delaney ML, Fichorova RN. The human microbiome during bacterial vaginosis. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2016;29(2):223–238. doi:10.1128/CMR.00075-15

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial vaginosis (BV): fact sheet.

  4. Ranjit E, Raghubanshi BR, Maskey S, Parajuli P. Prevalence of bacterial vaginosis and its association with risk factors among non pregnant women: A hospital based study. Int J Microbiol. 2018;2018:8349601. doi:10.1155/2018/8349601

  5. Wilson J. Managing recurrent bacterial vaginosis. Sex Transm Infect. 2004;80(1):8-11. doi:10.1136/sti.2002.002733

  6. Madden T, Grentzer JM, Secura GM, Allsworth JE, Peipert JF. Risk of bacterial vaginosis in users of the intrauterine device: a longitudinal studySex Transm Dis. 2012;39(3):217-22. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0b013e31823e68fe

  7. Brotman RM, He X, Gajer P, et al. Association between cigarette smoking and the vaginal microbiota: a pilot studyBMC Infect Dis. 2014;14:471. doi:10.1186/1471-2334-14-471

  8. Ryckman KK, Simhan HN, Krohn MA, Williams SM. Predicting risk of bacterial vaginosis: the role of race, smoking and corticotropin-releasing hormone-related genes. Mol Hum Reprod. 2009;15(2):131-137. doi:10.1093/molehr/gan081

  9.  Abou Chacra L, Fenollar F, Diop K. Bacterial vaginosis: what do we currently know?. Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2022;11:672429. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2021.672429

  10. Liu CM, Hungate BA, Tobian AA, et al. Penile microbiota and female partner bacterial vaginosis in Rakai, Uganda. mBio. 2015;6(3):e00589. doi:10.1128/mBio.00589-15

  11. Manhart LE, Khosropour CM, Liu C, et al. Bacterial vaginosis-associated bacteria in men: association of Leptotrichia/Sneathia spp. with nongonococcal urethritis. Sex Transm Dis. 2013;40(12):944-949. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000054

  12. Liu CM, Hungate BA, Tobian AA, Serwadda D, Ravel J, Lester R, et al. Male circumcision significantly reduces prevalence and load of genital anaerobic bacteria. MBio. 2013;4(2):e00076. doi:10.1128/mBio.00076-13

  13. Planned Parenthood. STD awareness: is bacterial vaginosis a sexually transmitted disease?.

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sexually transmitted infections treatment guidelines, 2021: bacterial vaginosis.

  15. MedlinePlus. Sexually transmitted diseases.

  16. MedlinePlus. Bacterial vaginosis.

  17. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Bacterial vaginosis (BV) statistics.

  18. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Bacterial vaginosis.

  19. Planned Parenthood. How can I avoid getting vaginitis?.

  20. Vodstrcil LA, Plummer EL, Doyle M, et al. Treating male partners of women with bacterial vaginosis (StepUp): a protocol for a randomised controlled trial to assess the clinical effectiveness of male partner treatment for reducing the risk of BV recurrence. BMC Infect Dis. 2020(2):834. doi:10.1186/s12879-020-05563-w

  21. Bradshaw CS, Vodstrcil LA, Hocking JS, Law M, Pirotta M, Garland SM, et al. Recurrence of bacterial vaginosis is significantly associated with posttreatment sexual activities and hormonal contraceptive use. Clin Infect Dis. 2013;56(6):777–86. doi:10.1093/cid/cis1030

  22. Bradshaw CS, Morton AN, Hocking J, Garland SM, Morris MB, Moss LM, et al. High recurrence rates of bacterial vaginosis over the course of 12 months after oral metronidazole therapy and factors associated with recurrence. J Infect Dis. 2006;193(11):1478–89. doi:10.1086/503780

  23. Ratten LK, Plummer EL, Murray GL, Danielewski J, Fairley CK, Garland SM, et al. Sex is associated with the persistence of non-optimal vaginal microbiota following treatment for bacterial vaginosis: a prospective cohort study. BJOG. 2021;128(4):756–67. doi:10.1111/1471-0528.16430

By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.