We recently talked about Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), an overgrowth of bad bacteria in comparison to good bacteria. I thought that today we would talk about a lesser known yet common enough vaginosis: Cytolytic Vaginosis (CV), and its impact on your sex life.
A woman’s vagina is considered healthy when the pH level is between 3.5 and 4.5 on a scale of 0 to 14, in which 0 to 7 would be considered to be acidic while 8 to 14 would be considered alkaline/basic — the vagina needs to be more acidic than basic. Once this pH is thrown off, the body will respond by sending an alarm, for example by causing discomfort such as itching, burning or redness. It may also increase vaginal secretions to protect itself as best as it can.
Finally, some of these reactions may produce odour that is impossible to ignore because the scent of a healthy vagina is different from the smell of one whose pH is off kilter. All these things are bound to have a less-than-pleasant impact on your ability to have or enjoy sex.
Now that we have a basic understanding of why our bodies respond and react as they do, what does that have to do with CV? A simple conceptualisation is that CV is really an overgrowth of good bacteria that are already present in the vagina, which is the complete opposite of BV (Bacterial Vaginosis), which is an overgrowth of bad bacteria. The symptoms of CV are so closely related to yeast infections that one is often confused for the other.
As a reminder, yeast infections are fungal infections. Unlike yeast infections, however, CV is really diagnosed through the process of elimination. This means that a swab will be taken and if it shows the presence of fungus then that will confirm a yeast infection. If no fungus is found then CV is strongly suspected. So let’s look at them side by side for a better understanding.
Similarities: Both cause itchiness and irritation in the vaginal area, both cause redness and swelling in the vaginal area, both cause thick white discharge that doesn’t necessarily smell although sexual activity may trigger a stronger-than-usual smell and vaginal secretion (remember that the discharge from BV has a strong, fishy smell), both also alter the vaginal pH and both can make sex rather uncomfortable and even painful.
Differences: One is fungal (yeast infection) while the other is bacterial (CV) even though it would not be considered a bacterial infection because it is simply an overgrowth of the naturally occurring good bacteria (remember that BV is an overgrowth of bad bacteria, which then throws off your vaginal pH and health).
Diagnosis: the bacterial vs fungal are the key differences in these two. This is especially useful during diagnosis because the treatment for bacterial problems and that for fungal problems are different, so it is important to get the correct diagnosis. In order to determine which is which, a process of elimination must be undertaken because CV is not a ‘disease’ per se. A vaginal swab can be taken and if it tests positive for candida then that eliminates CV but if it does not test positive for candida, the CV would be strongly suspected.
Another way to identify yeast infection versus CV would be if a woman has frequent yeast infections that do not seem to be responding to treatment. Most women know what yeast infections feel like, so the minute they feel one coming on, they go to their nearest pharmacy for necessary medication. However, if you are getting frequent yeast infections that are not responding to treatment, then consider that you may not have a yeast infection after all. It could be CV, an easy to treat vaginosis.
Treatment is usually about balancing the vaginal pH, by making it slightly more alkaline. At the same time, in the same way that too much of your favourite foods can make you sick to your stomach, if you have been consuming copious amounts of lactobacilli-containing products such as yoghurt and butter milk, you may have overdone the ‘good foods’. This would be a case of the old adage, “too much of a good thing is poisonous.”
One easy solution is to reduce or eliminate those foods until you get better. In the meantime, avoid penetrative sex or use condoms especially if you are sore or you feel raw to the touch so that you do not complicate your situation.
As always, speak with your doctor so they can advise you accordingly, based on your specific situation. Here’s to understanding your body so that you can take care of it in a way that helps it take care of you, in bed.
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Maggie Gitu holds an MA in Marriage & Family Therapy. She practices as a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist. Reach her at [email protected] or via her Facebook page: Maggie Gitu
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