This study was undertaken to define the characteristics and persistence of vaginal flora in 7918 pregnant women at 23 to 26 weeks' gestation. Vaginal smears were categorized as normal (predominant lactobacilli), intermediate (reduced lactobacilli), or positive for bacterial vaginosis. The women with normal flora were least likely to have elevated vaginal pH, amine odor, milky discharge, or colonization by Gardnerella, Bacteroides, or genital mycoplasmas. Women with intermediate vaginal flora had intermediate frequencies of these clinical signs and microorganisms. Group B streptococci and yeast were associated with normal or intermediate flora, whereas Neisseria gonorrhoeae and Chlamydia trachomatis were recovered more frequently from women with intermediate flora or bacterial vaginosis. Trichomonas vaginalis was most associated with intermediate flora. At follow-up, 81% of the women with normal flora had remained normal. Of the women with intermediate flora, 32% acquired bacterial vaginosis and 30% shifted to normal flora. Only 12% of the women with bacterial vaginosis had shifted to normal flora. We conclude that there are two primary stable vaginal flora patterns (normal flora or bacterial vaginosis) and a third less distinct transitional flora pattern between these two.