When Roxanne Ramsey took to TikTok to rant about her frustrations dealing with bacterial vaginosis, a type of vaginal inflammation in which an excess of certain bacteria upsets the vagina's natural balance, she had no idea that it would resonate with other women. Now, 700,000 followers later, the 31-year-old Maryland native has become a women's health fixture on the platform.
"When I first started my TikTok page I was into beauty and makeup and everything," Ramsey tells Yahoo Life of her initial purpose for joining the app. But in 2019 she reached a breaking point. That's when her doctor told her that the bacterial vaginosis, or BV, that she'd already been dealing with for years was just something she would have to live with.
“I was really frustrated with the doctor," she says, "and after the appointment I made a TikTok just to express my frustration."
Ramsey continued chronicling her life with BV on app, where one viral post about feeling unheard by doctors received more than 700,000 likes and support from commenters thanking her for sharing her story.
"Thanks for making things like this seem less embarrassing; we should never be embarrassed," read one comment.
"Your whole story is EXACTLY what happened to me. I'm so happy to hear I'm not crazy," read another.
Ramsey’s relatable approach helps ease some of the discomforts surrounding the topic, allowing viewers to find humor in an issue commonly associated with shame. One of her most popular videos shows her pretending to spray body mist all over herself to "make sure no one else can smell your BV," raking in almost one million likes.
Bacterial vaginosis — an overgrowth of bacteria that can cause discharge and a "fishy" odor — is the most common vaginal infection in women, affecting nearly 30% between 15 and 44 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and disproportionately impacting Black women. The condition is, unfortunately, something many people with vaginas are made to feel ashamed about.
“In general there is a stigma about all things vagina, especially in relation to vaginal odor — even normal odor!" Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, an OB-GYN who has also used her platform on Tiktok to open up conversations on vaginal health, tells Yahoo Life. "The fact that BV can cause a fishy odor makes it a condition even more likely to be surrounded by shame and stigma."
That’s resulted in a lack of discourse on BV, leaving many to feel like they are struggling with the condition alone. But Ramsey's no-holds-barred approach has launched a community of women who now feel more comfortable sharing their experiences online. The TikToker ultimately found relief for her BV after noticing she had flare-ups after sex with her uncircumcised boyfriend, a long-overdue revelation that has made her all the more passionate about speaking candidly about the taboo topic in hopes of helping others find a way through.
"I just want to open the conversation so that everybody can be open to talk about it,” says Ramsey. “If you have a discharge, and you don't know what it is, you're comfortable enough to comment in the comments and say, 'Hey, guys, I got a green discharge. Is it just me or is it normal?'"
Lincoln also agrees that normalizing these conversations is vital to ensuring that people with vaginas no longer have to keep quiet about such a common infection.
"When we … take away the shame, [we] empower ourselves to know that our bodies are normal and perfect as they are. Sometimes we get infections, and it's not a big deal," the doctor says.
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