The burden of bacterial vaginosis: women's experience of the physical, emotional, sexual and social impact of living with recurrent bacterial vaginosis

PLoS One. 2013 Sep 11;8(9):e74378. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0074378. eCollection 2013.


Background: Bacterial vaginosis is a common vaginal infection, causing an abnormal vaginal discharge and/or odour in up to 50% of sufferers. Recurrence is common following recommended treatment. There are limited data on women's experience of bacterial vaginosis, and the impact on their self-esteem, sexual relationships and quality of life. The aim of this study was to explore the experiences and impact of recurrent bacterial vaginosis on women.

Methods: A social constructionist approach was chosen as the framework for the study. Thirty five women with male and/or female partners participated in semi-structured interviews face-to-face or by telephone about their experience of recurrent bacterial vaginosis.

Results: Recurrent bacterial vaginosis impacted on women to varying degrees, with some women reporting it had little impact on their lives but most reporting it had a moderate to severe impact. The degree to which it impacted on women physically, emotionally, sexually and socially often depended on the frequency of episodes and severity of symptoms. Women commonly reported that symptoms of bacterial vaginosis made them feel embarrassed, ashamed, 'dirty' and very concerned others may detect their malodour and abnormal discharge. The biggest impact of recurrent bacterial vaginosis was on women's self-esteem and sex lives, with women regularly avoiding sexual activity, in particular oral sex, as they were too embarrassed and self-conscious of their symptoms to engage in these activities. Women often felt confused about why they were experiencing recurrent bacterial vaginosis and frustrated at their lack of control over recurrence.

Conclusion: Women's experience of recurrent bacterial vaginosis varied broadly and significantly in this study. Some women reported little impact on their lives but most reported a moderate to severe impact, mainly on their self-esteem and sex life. Further support and acknowledgement of these impacts are required when managing women with recurrent bacterial vaginosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Psychological Distance
  • Quality of Life / psychology*
  • Recurrence
  • Self Concept
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology
  • Sexual Partners / psychology
  • Vaginal Discharge / physiopathology
  • Vaginal Discharge / psychology*
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / physiopathology
  • Vaginosis, Bacterial / psychology*

Grant support

In the conduct of this study a small grant was utilised from the Australian Lesbian Medical Association ACON ( Dr Jade Bilardi is in receipt of a National Health and Medical Research Centre (NHMRC) Early Career Fellowship GNT1013135. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.