Anonymous on August 9, 2011

Can men get bacterial vaginosis from a female partner?

I was diagnosed with gardnerella vaginitis almost a year ago and I’ve been with the same guy for two years. I still have one symptom of vaginitis...the thick discharge and the last two times we’ve had sex, my fiance’s semen has been thick and white instead of being thin and clear like normal. Is it possible that he has my infection? Can it be transmitted to a man?

answered by Lisa Oldson, MD on August 9, 2011

Good questions and thanks for sharing your experience with us. I can help answer some of your questions about bacterial vaginosis but I encourage you to visit your doctor once again about the continued symptoms of vaginitis that you described.

First, as you probably know, gardnerella vaginitis is a common bacteria that can be the cause of bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV isn’t passed through sex and men won’t catch it. In other words, the change in color and viscosity (texture) of your partner’s semen is the result of something else. (Sometimes dehydration can cause such symptoms but to know for sure your fiance should visit his physician.)

Regarding your bacterial vaginosis symptoms, I encourage you to talk with your doctor. It is fairly common for women to have a second instance of BV three-to-six months after your first. However, I want to mention that there is such a thing as normal discharge. Most women have some discharge every day and it is normal for it to be white or transparent, thick and mostly odorless...but a little odor is fine. If you think your vaginal discharge looks different from normal, I encourage you to visit your doctor for additional treatment – your doctor can prescribe a different medication that may work better.

Heavy vaginal discharge can be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection. Unusually heavy discharge sometimes is a sign of an STD like chlamydia, gonorrhea or trichomoniasis. These STDs often have additional symptoms, such as vaginal irritation, pain while urinating and discomfort during intercourse.

To be on the safe side, getting tested for for the most common STDs including chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis may be a good idea depending on your sexual history. You can talk to your doctor about STD testing or seek out a professional online service. Some other common STDs you may also want to consider getting testes for include herpes, hepatitis, HIV and syphilis. Our experts have written more about STD symptoms, complications and testing in the Expert Guide to STD Basics.

Heavy discharge can also indicate a different kind of infection like a yeast infection. A thick, whitish-gray discharge is often a symptom of a yeast infection...the discharge is usually described as looking like cottage cheese and can vary from watery to thick and clumpy. Unlike BV, however, yeast infections can rarely be passed to a male partner if you have unprotected sex. Although we don’t think of yeast infection as a classic STD, this happens from time to time. (Yeast infections in men tend to manifest as a reddish itchy rash that emanates from the tip of the penis.)

Bottom line? Women can’t give their male partner’s bacterial vaginosis, but your unresolved symptoms are something to have checked out by your doctor. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and possibly about the need for STD testing. Thanks for writing, and I wish you and your fiance the best health.

Related info:

Lisa Oldson, MD

Dr. Oldson is Medical Director of the Analyte Physicians Group. She is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, as well as Clinical Instructor at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University. Her areas of expertise include STDs (with a particular clinical emphasis on herpes), women's health, preventive medicine, diabetes, obesity and weight management, and mood and anxiety disorders. Dr. Oldson was educated at Rush Medical College and completed her residency at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center in Chicago, IL.

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