OBJECTIVE: A substantial, but highly variable, percentage of women with bacterial vaginosis are said to be asymptomatic. The purpose of this study was to estimate the prevalence of symptoms among women with bacterial vaginosis compared with women without bacterial vaginosis by direct, explicit, and detailed questioning of these women. METHODS: Women presenting for a routine health care visit at 12 health department clinics in Birmingham, Alabama, were recruited to participate in a longitudinal study of vaginal flora. At the first visit, they underwent a pelvic examination, lower genital tract microbiological evaluation, and an interview that included detailed questions regarding lower genital tract symptoms. The prevalence of symptoms among women with and without bacterial vaginosis (Gram stain score 7 or higher) was compared. RESULTS: Among 2,888 women without gonorrhea, Chlamydia, or trichomonas, 75% of women with and 82% of women without bacterial vaginosis never noted any vaginal odor in the past 6 months (P < .001). The corresponding values were 63% and 65% for never noting vaginal "wetness" (P = .02); 58% and 57% for vaginal discharge (P = .65); 91% and 86% for irritation (P = .004); 88% and 85% for itching (P = .64); and 96% and 94% for dysuria (P = .002), respectively. Cumulatively, 58% of women with bacterial vaginosis noted odor, discharge, and/or wetness in the past 6 months compared with 57% of women without bacterial vaginosis (P = .70). CONCLUSION: The 2 classic symptoms of bacterial vaginosis discharge and odor are each reported by a minority of women with bacterial vaginosis and are only slightly more prevalent than among women without bacterial vaginosis. © 2004 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.