Human vaginas are complicated chemistry experiments that can sometimes be problematic when something disrupts their pH or the natural balance of bacteria. And, unfortunately, even sex acts can occasionally be the cause of these problems — including in the case of bacterial vaginosis, or BV, (a common bacterial infection that is not sexually transmitted) and oral sex.
According to a study in the journal PLOS Biology, there are potential links between bacterial vaginosis and oral sex — due to the presence of a bacteria that is also commonly found in human mouths. Researchers from University of California San Diego examined two types of bacteria and how they interact in mice and swabs collected from human women. They found that the vaginal bacteria (Gardnerella vaginalis — which is known to be connected to BV) and the moral bacteria (fusobacterium nucleatum — which is possibly connected to gum disease), when brought together, allowed for a “robust outgrowth” of the vaginal bacteria. TL;DR: Some of the wild germs that can be found in the mouth do not play nicely with the environment of a vagina.
“These results illustrate that mutually beneficial relationships between vaginal bacteria support pathogen colonization and may help maintain features of dysbiosis,” the researchers say. “These findings challenge the simplistic dogma that the mere absence of “healthy” lactobacilli is the sole mechanism that creates a permissive environment for pathogens during vaginal dysbiosis. Given the ubiquity of F. nucleatum in the human mouth, these studies also suggest a possible mechanism underlying links between vaginal dysbiosis and oral sex.”
What happens when you have BV?
As SheKnows previously reported, BV is “caused by an overgrowth of harmful bacteria that disrupts the delicate pH balance of the vagina,” according to Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Its symptoms can include burning, itching, redness, swelling, a yellow, gray or greenish discharge and a “fishy” odor (a scent that can be intensified by semen). In the longer term, there are also increased risks to being more vulnerable to STIs and a higher likelihood of pregnant people delivering a preterm or low birth weight baby.
What can you do about it?
If you are already experiencing bouts of what you think might be bacterial vaginosis, get in touch with your OBGYN about the best way to treat it. Typically it’s treated with antibiotics (metronidazole or clindamycin), administered orally or topically.
If you’ve had a case of BV, are concerned your oral sex habits might be at fault (or if you’re just having sex up with a new partner), you can definitely take up using dental dams (I know!) as a mostly reliable barrier method for oral activities. Again, since BV is not a STI, it’s a precaution to consider — but a dam can also help with preventing those too as well as keeping any mouth bacteria from your partner out of your vag.
While this mouth-to-vagina germ trade-off situation isn’t necessarily one to be hyper concerned about (though you are your safest sex partner, in a pandemic and out!), practicing your best oral hygiene before putting your mouth on your partner is also a courteous move.
Before you go, check out our favorite vagina-friendly wipes that won’t mess with your pH: