While I usually write sultry, sensual pieces on the topic of sex in the hopes to inspire creativity and pleasure in the bedroom (and beyond), few things stand in the way of these issues with our sexual health. I’m sure there are many others out there, suffering (silently) with the same thing, without knowing what might cause it, and it’s therefore that I decided to share my personal struggle with BV and how I finally got rid of it.
If you battle with recurring or chronic BV and you also use an IUD for contraception, read on: The two are very likely connected, and several studies suggest the same (see a list of resources below at the bottom).
After I first suspected this connection and later had mine removed, I researched further and found a plethora of articles to back up my hunch. This one from the Annals of Clinical Microbiology and Antimicrobials, published in November 2018, is especially eye-opening and reveals that “long-term use of intrauterine devices (IUDs) may lead to biofilm formation on the surface [of the IUD].” After performing “culture- and PCR-based detections of bacteria/fungi from the biofilm of the removed IUDs” the researchers found that “seventy-six percent of the IUDs were PCR positive at least for one BV signaling bacterium.” This is compared to 28% detected in non-IUD users, meaning BV is about three times more prevalent in those with IUDs, and especially the non-hormonal, copper kind.
Having been on hormonal birth control for fifteen years and concluding it may have numbed me emotionally the entire time, I was thrilled to get a ParaGard IUD inserted after the birth of my daughter. But, less than a year thereafter, I suddenly started noticing a slightly off smell down there.
Being newly single and dating again, I first blamed the imbalance on condom use, which after a decade in a monogamous relationship was not something my sensitive environment was used to. But, the symptoms didn’t go away, instead, they got stronger.
Since I’d never had a vaginal bacterial infection before, it took a while until I even realized what it was, and, that it was different from a yeast infection. After identifying it, I decided I’d be damned if I’d let this nuisance put a damper on my newly reclaimed sex life, and proceeded to battle it head-on.
Long story short, I did all the right things, from wearing breathable underwear, avoid scented soaps and synthetic lube (which I always do anyway) and, I was using a menstrual cup to avoid chemicals from tampons. I adjusted my already low-sugar diet, stacked up on probiotics and any other recommended food and supplement I could get a hold of.
After having the BV confirmed by my OBGYN, I went on a few rounds of antibiotic suppositories, which all helped, but only temporarily. A few weeks down the line and the damn thing would return…again.
At last, after having spent silly amounts of cash on creams and lactobacilli supplements in every possible form, to no avail, my desperation led me to try a tip I’d read online: Douching with hydrogen peroxide.
It sounds like a terrible idea, I know, but I had run out of options. But, while not really recommended by doctors, I made sure this alternative treatment wouldn’t cause any permanent damage to my health. In many ways, it makes perfect sense that it works. The above-quoted article describes BV as “a complex alteration of the vaginal flora with the decrease of the hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli replaced by various anaerobic and facultative anaerobic bacteria including some BV-associated bacteria”.
Basically, Bacterial Vaginosis eradicates the natural lactobacilli, which are partially responsible for the production of natural hydrogen peroxide in our vaginas. The problem is, as my gynecologist also confirmed, that while it helps temporarily, flushing with diluted hydrogen peroxide also kills all the natural vaginal flora and thus peretuates the problem in the long run.
But, again, I had found no other solution that worked even remotely and was stuck with this band-aid to keep symptoms at bay, for over a year, until I finally discovered the real source of the issue.
Talking to a close girlfriend, who also had an IUD, we realized we had the same problem, and she'd also tried everything. In addition to BV, she also had recurring yeast infections and the combination was driving her mad, causing her to show up at her doctor’s office almost weekly, wretchedly trying to get her vaginal health in check. And it was her doctor who said the thing that changed everything:
—It could be that your infections have gotten stuck to the coil of the IUD.
Ding-ding-ding! When she told me, the blinking red lights went off. Of course, that must be what it is; besides being the only thing neither of us had tried or thought about, it made perfect sense that unwanted bacteria would find a way to stick to a foreign object inserted into the body.
The story ends well; my friend promptly removed hers, and soon after, both of her infections vanished. And when I followed, mine did too. I did simultaneously go on oral antibiotics, followed my a week-long lactobacilli cure, but the BV cleared already a day after the IUD had been removed.
While it all worked out in the end, it’s beyond me that in all of the most popular health resources online (such as Healthline, Mayo Clinic and Web MD, etc.), the link between BV and IUDs is not mentioned. It’s first when you search for the two together do you discover the many credible medical resources pointing it out, which means you first have to suspect this connection on your own. Why was I never informed of this risk by medical personal when offered the option of an IUD in the first place? Why did it take tenfolds of visits to doctors, gynecologists and STI testing centers for my friend and I before anyone brought up the possibility?
While a BV is usually harmless, it can reek hawoc on your sex life, and when it becomes chronic, and if left untreated, it can increase your risks of contracting STIs or develop into pelvic inflammatory disease, which may lead to infertility. Why didn’t any of the health professionals I talked to seem to worry about this for a second?
While I’m now so happy to have my all-natural, healthy self back, I continue to be enraged by the seemingly systematic trivialization of the risks posed on women related to birth control and sexual health. I keep wondering why there are still so few, if any, options that do not risk either our mental or physical well being—or both. And, as always, why the viable options for men are still not on the market.
While IUDs work great for many, and are wonderful in that they offer an effective, non-hormonal birth control method, their potential for encouraging the growth of unhealthy vaginal bacteria should be widely known! Had I had known when I got mine what I do now, I could have been spared countless amounts of worry, stress and pain, and not to mention money, on something that could have been easily avoided.
Supporting Research | Uqora: Is my IUD giving me BV?, Oxford Academic: Elevated Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis Among Users of the Copper Intrauterine Device, NCBI, US National Library of Medicine: Risk of Bacterial Vaginosis in Users of the Intrauterine Device: A Longitudinal Study, CDC: Bacterial Vaginosis, The Facts