Vaginal Microbiome and Its Relationship to Behavior, Sexual Health, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The vaginal microbiota has great significance in maintaining vaginal health and protecting the host from disease. Recent advances in molecular techniques and informatics allow researchers to explore microbial composition in detail and to compare the structure of vaginal microbial communities with behavior and health outcomes, particularly acquisition and transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and poor birth outcomes. Vaginal flora have been found to cluster into a limited number of communities, although community structure is dynamic. Certain community types are more associated with poor reproductive outcomes and STDs; communities dominated by Lactobacillus species, particularly Lactobacillus crispatus, are most associated with vaginal health. Modifiable and nonmodifiable factors are strongly associated with community composition, including behavior, race or ethnicity, and hygiene. In this review, we describe the state of the science on the vaginal microbiome and its relationship to behavior, sexual health, and STDs, including determinants of the microbiome that go beyond an individual level.