How to Stop Bacterial Vaginosis From Coming Back Permanently

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection that occurs in about a third of all women—mostly among those who are sexually active.

This article will explore how this infection develops, why it can be difficult to get rid of, and what to do if you develop a stubborn case of BV.

Young woman speaking to healthcare provider.

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What Is Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)?

Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection that affects the vagina. It is caused by bacteria like:

  • Prevotella
  • Mobiluncus
  • Atopobium vaginae
  • Gardnerella vaginalis

BV is sometimes grouped in with sexually transmitted infections because it occurs mostly in people who are sexually active, but there are other causes too.

This infection can develop anytime there is an imbalance in the natural chemistry and bacterial makeup of the vagina. While vaginal intercourse and multiple sexual partners are risk factors for this condition, it can also be caused by activities like douching.

Most develop this infection with no symptoms at all. When symptoms do develop, they can include things like:

Related: How Bacterial Vaginosis Is Diagnosed

Why Does BV Keep Coming Back?

Bacterial vaginosis is a bacterial infection that develops for reasons that aren't entirely understood, although some risky behaviors have been observed.

If you and your sexual partner have intercourse without condoms or you have multiple sexual partners, you may be at a higher risk of developing this infection.

Persistent and recurrent BV is common, so you should complete any prescribed medications that are offered to you. See your healthcare provider if your symptoms aren't resolved or if they return after treatment. Untreated or unresolved BV can increase your chances of developing other sexually transmitted infections.

Should My Partner Be Treated?

The role of male partners in bacterial vaginosis is questionable and often debated, primarily because of a lack of clearly defined symptoms on their end.

While male treatment is not currently recommended or heavily studied, focusing on good sexual hygiene and safe sex can help reduce the risk of transmission/reinfection from a male sexual partner.

How to Stop Recurring BV

Completing your prescribed course of antibiotics is an important step in clearing a BV infection and avoiding complications like antibiotic resistance.

Recurrent BV is currently treated with longer durations of the same antibiotics used with initial treatment in most cases. Sometimes a different antibiotic may be used, but managing your sexual and personal health practices may be just as effective.

If you struggle with recurrent BV, consider evaluating your sexual health practices as well as your hygiene habits and products. Making some changes to the products you use, how you cleanse yourself, and how you interact with sexual partners can help to reduce your risk of resistant BV infections.

Keep Your Vaginal Bacteria Balanced

One way to prevent BV is to help maintain the microbiotic balance of your vagina. Our bodies have a balance of "good" and "bad" bacteria, and infections usually develop when the bad bacteria outnumber the good. This can happen after antibiotic use or other conditions that can destroy your store of helpful or protective bacteria.

Taking probiotics (lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 and lactobacillus reuteri RC-14 strains) can be helpful in maintaining your body's bacterial balance, especially if you are taking antibiotics for another type of infection. It's also a good idea to avoid strong cleansers or hygiene products with perfumes or dyes.

Lowering vaginal pH can also be helpful. An acidic environment creates a less hospitable environment for bacteria. Ask your healthcare provider about vaginal boric acid.

It's also important to be sure that you regularly change sanitary products when menstruating, or wash things like menstrual cups often. Tampons and pads should be changed at least every four to six hours.

Avoid Douching 

Douching is the practice of using water and other mixtures to wash out or cleanse the vagina. This practice is meant to promote hygiene, but it can actually wash away good bacteria and push bad bacteria further up into your uterus.

In general, douching is not recommended, as it can contribute to the development of:

  • Bacterial vaginosis
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Vaginal dryness and irritation
  • Pregnancy problems or complications
  • Sexually transmitted infections

Wear Breathable Underwear

The type of underwear you wear is also important. Like other mucus membranes, your vagina needs to breathe. Covering it with fabrics that can trap moisture—like nylon—can create a place for bacteria to grow. Choosing underwear that is made of cotton is best or that at least has a cotton lining in the crotch.

Practice Safe Sex

Safe sex includes being selective in whom you have intercourse with and how many partners you have, but it also is about how you have sex.

Anal sex is more likely to spread bacteria, and even unwashed sex toys can pose a problem. You may also find that you become irritated by certain types of condoms or lubricants if you have certain sensitivities or allergies in their ingredients, like latex.

Use appropriate sexual health products like condoms the right way every time you have sex, and clean any personal or shared sex toys or devices well before and after every use.

Home Remedies for BV

While there are many home remedies that have been used for centuries to prevent and treat bacterial vaginosis, there are no real clear recommendations.

Studies have confirmed some benefit from the use of probiotics that can be found in supplements and even some yogurts. While there is some research on the use of boric acid, official guidance on using these products is unclear.

Speak to your healthcare provider to determine whether these home remedies are safe options for you.

Summary

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by a variety of bacteria. This infection can develop after sexual contact or from certain hygiene practices like douching. Antibiotics can treat these infections but recurrence is not uncommon.

Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't go away or if they return after treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Clearing up a bacterial vaginosis infection can be tricky. The first course of antibiotics isn't always enough to cure this infection. Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't clear up. The answer may be a combination of additional medication, lifestyle changes, and new hygiene practices.

 

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What triggers BV?

    Healthcare providers aren't entirely sure what causes BV, but it's likely a combination of several factors, including sexual health, hygiene practices, and more. Talk to your healthcare provider about steps you can take to prevent vaginal infections.

  • Can BV be cured permanently?

    Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotics, but it can be difficult to clear up completely. Talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms don't clear up entirely after treatment.

  • Can sperm cause BV?

    The male role in BV isn't entirely clear, but semen and sperm contain many types of cells, including bacteria and viruses. Using condoms is the best way to prevent BV and sexually transmitted infections.

  • Why do I keep getting BV with the same partner?

    Bacterial vaginosis isn't technically a sexually transmitted infection, but rates of this infection are higher in people who have sexual intercourse. If you are experiencing repeated infections with the same partner, talk to your healthcare provider and partner about STI testing and safe sex options.

7 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. Wigan R, et al. It's just an issue and you deal with it… you just deal with it, you move on and you do it together: Men's experiences of bacterial vaginosis and the acceptability of male partner treatment. PloS one. June 2020;15(6):e0235286. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0235286.

  2. Bilardi J, et al. Women’s management of recurrent bacterial vaginosis and experiences of clinical care: A qualitative study. PLOS One. March 2016. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0151794.

  3. Planned Parenthood. How do I prevent vaginitis?

  4. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Vaginitis.

  5. Office on Women's Health. Douching.

  6. Emamie AD, Zadeh RG, Asadollahi P, Ghanavati R, Darbandi A. Effects of pro/prebiotics alone over pro/prebiotics combined with conventional antibiotic therapy to treat bacterial vaginosis: A systematic review. Int. Journ. Clin. Pract. 2022. doi:10.1155/2022/4774783.

  7. Zeron MM, Trouton KM. BASIC study: Is intravaginal boric acid non-inferior to metronidazole in symptomatic bacterial vaginosis? Study protocol for a randomized controlled trial. Trials. July 2015;16:315. doi:10.1186/s13063-015-0852-5

By Rachael Zimlich, BSN, RN
 Rachael is a freelance healthcare writer and critical care nurse based near Cleveland, Ohio.