Penis Microbiome May Lead To Partner's BV Infections, Study Says

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
Penis Microbiome May Lead To Partner's BV Infections, Study Says

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection caused by an imbalance in the vaginal microbiome. If left untreated, BV can increase a woman's susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and can lead to fertility issues, according to the CDC. Though BV is common, there's no clear cause of the infection. However, new research from the University of Illinois at Chicago suggests male partners might play a role.

The study, published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology, found the bacteria in the penis microbiome might lead to onset of BV for women and could be used to predict whether a female partner will get the infection. 

What did the researchers find?

The researchers studied 168 heterosexual couples from Kenya. At the start of the study, none of the female participants had BV. Over the course of one year, more than 31% of women were diagnosed. 

The researchers compared the microbiome of each male's penis and found those whose female partners developed BV had a similar microbiota composition. Most notably, they found 10 BV-related bacteria that may be able to predict the onset of the infection in women. 

More research is needed to understand why the penis microbiota triggers BV. According to the study, though, these are two possible reasons:

  1. Bacteria from the penis microbiome is transferred directly to the vagina during sex, leading to BV shortly after.
  2. Bacteria from the penis microbiome disrupts the natural balance of the vaginal microbiome during sex, leading to BV later on or after repeated exposure.
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Why does this matter?

Understanding what causes BV in most women can help with prevention and treatment. 

"Antibiotic treatment of BV has limited long-term success, with up to 50% of women having recurrence within six months," public health researcher Supriya D. Mehta, MHS, Ph.D., says in a news release, "so we need more effective approaches to treatment. Male sex partner treatment may be a new strategy." 

Including male partners in the conversation about BV is also important, Mehta says. Doing so may help improve the health outcomes for women and hopefully reduce the stigma of this common infection.

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