Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection affecting women of childbearing age. While the aetiology and transmissibility of BV remain unclear, there is strong evidence to suggest an association between BV and sexual activity. This study explored women’s views and experiences of the triggers for BV onset and factors associated with recurrence.
A descriptive, social constructionist approach was chosen as the framework for the study. Thirty five women of varying sexual orientation who had experienced recurrent BV in the past five years took part in semi-structured interviews.
The majority of women predominantly reported sexual contact triggered the onset of BV and sexual and non-sexual factors precipitated recurrence. Recurrence was most commonly referred to in terms of a ‘flare-up’ of symptoms. The majority of women did not think BV was a sexually transmitted infection however many reported being informed this by their clinician. Single women who attributed BV onset to sex with casual partners were most likely to display self-blame tendencies and to consider changing their future sexual behaviour. Women who have sex with women (WSW) were more inclined to believe their partner was responsible for the transmission of or reinfection with BV and seek partner treatment or change their sexual practices.
Findings from this study strongly suggest women believe that BV onset is associated with sexual activity, concurring with epidemiological data which increasingly suggest BV may be sexually transmitted. Exacerbating factors associated with recurrence were largely heterogeneous and may reflect the fact it is difficult to determine whether recurrence is due to persistent BV or a new infection in women. There was however evidence to suggest possible transmission and reinfection among WSW, reinforcing the need for new approaches to treatment and management strategies including male and female partner treatment trials.