Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is an infection caused by having too much of a certain type of bacteria in the vagina.1,2
The vagina naturally maintains a balance of lactobacilli, which are beneficial bacteria. These are often referred to as the vaginal flora or microbiota. When vaginal flora is out of balance, harmful anaerobic bacteria take over.1
Men can’t get BV because the penis doesn’t have the same delicate balance of bacteria. In addition, bacterial vaginosis doesn’t spread like a sexually transmitted infection (STI).1

However, experts aren’t as sure about whether men can spread BV to female partners.1

A 2015 study involving 165 uncircumcised men concluded that participants who had one or more female sexual partners, aside from their spouse, were more likely to carry bacteria associated with BV on their penis. In turn, this increased their spouse’s risk of developing BV after having unprotected sexual intercourse.1

Another study from 2013 involved 157 heterosexual men. The investigators found that men with a history of nongonococcal urethritis were more likely to carry BV-causing bacteria on their penis.
Nongonococcal urethritis is a condition that involves inflammation of the urethra, the tube through which urine passes on its way out of the penis.1

What causes similar symptoms in men?1

Several conditions can cause symptoms similar to those of BV in men. These include ongoing itchiness, discharge, and unusual odours.

Thrush happens when a fungus, usually Candida albicans, grows out of control on the penis. It’s commonly called a yeast infection. Thrush can cause penile itching and a build-up of a chunky substance under the foreskin.
Thrush can be caused by wearing tight clothing that doesn’t let the genital area get enough fresh air. Sweating a lot can also increase the risk. Thrush can develop or be spread by having unprotected sex.

Many STIs caused by bacteria can have symptoms similar to those of BV. STIs are spread through unprotected sex.
Some STIs that may cause these symptoms include:1

  • Chlamydia is caused by bacteria called Chlamydia trachomatis.3
  • Trichomoniasis(or “trich”) is caused by infection with a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Although symptoms of the disease vary, most people who have the parasite cannot tell they are infected.1,4
  • Genital herpes. Genital herpes is a common STI that any sexually active person can get. Most people with the virus don’t have symptoms. Even without signs of the disease, herpes can still be spread to sex partners. It is caused by caused by two types of viruses. The viruses are called herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).5
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)1

Urinary tract infection1
Similar to BV, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are usually associated with women. But men can get them, too. This usually happens when there’s an overgrowth of bacteria in the bladder or ureters, which connect the kidneys to the bladder.

Additional symptoms of a UTI include:

  • Inflammation
  • Pain while urinating
  • Bloody urine
  • UTIs are often caused when Escherichia coli bacteria found in the body travel up the urethra into the bladder and kidneys.

Balanitis happens when the skin on the tip of the penis becomes irritated and inflamed.
Balanitis is more common in men who have foreskin. In some cases, it may not be able to pull back the foreskin because the skin is too swollen.

Several things can cause balanitis, including:

  • Using scented products on the penis
  • STIs
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Untreated diabetes

How do I protect myself?1
You can reduce your risk of spreading bacteria related to BV or other STIs by following these 4 steps:

  1. Wear a condom or use protection during vaginal or anal sex. Use a dental dam during oral sex to keep bacteria from getting in your mouth. Learn how to properly use condoms.
  2. Limit the number of sexual partners you have at one time.
  3. Keep your penis and genital area clean to keep bacteria from overgrowing. Make sure you clean the skin beneath your foreskin regularly, too.
  4. Wear loose, breathable cotton underwear to ventilate your genital area, especially when exercising or doing other things that make you sweat.

If you have symptoms similar to BV, speak to your healthcare professional to find out what’s causing your symptoms so you can start treating the condition and avoid spreading it to others.

DISCLAIMER: This editorial has been commissioned and brought to you by iNova Pharmaceuticals. Content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.

Name and business address of the holder of the certificate of registration: iNova Pharmaceuticals (Pty) Ltd,. Co. Reg. No. 1952/001640/07, 15e Riley Road, Bedfordview. Tel. No. 011 087 0000. For further information, speak to your healthcare professional. Further information is available on request from iNova Pharmaceuticals. IN3195/19


  1. Healthline Plus. Can Men Get or Spread Bacterial Vaginosis? [online] June 2018 [cited April 2019]; Available from URL:
  2. Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet. [online] [cited April 2019]; Available from URL:
  3. Medline Plus. Chlamydia Infections. [online] May 2018 [cited April 2019]; Available from URL:
  4. Trichomoniasis – CDC Fact sheet. [online] [cited May 2019]; Available from URL:
  5. Genital Herpes [online] [cited April 2019]; Available from URL: