Each week, The CSPH answers questions that have been submitted anonymously through Formspring. This week’s question is:
My girlfriend sometimes has yeast infections. Is it bad to have unprotected sex?
Yeast infections, sometimes known as thrush, are the result of an overgrowth of the candida albicans fungus. Although Candidiasis can occur throughout the body, the infection is prone to occur in warm, moist areas, such as the mouth. In particular, vaginal yeast infections occur when yeast, which already exists within the vagina in small amounts, overgrows, resulting in an infection. Vaginal yeast infections are actually quite common, occurring in as many as 75% of vagina owners throughout their lifetime. They are also easy to treat, usually only requiring an antifungal cream, vaginal suppository, or oral medication.
Symptoms of vaginal yeast infections include burning, itching, redness around the vagina and/or vulva, pain when urinating, pain during sex, and a thick, white discharge like cottage cheese. Many factors can raise the risk of yeast infections, such as stress, illness, lack of sleep, poor dietary habits, pregnancy, menstruation, hormonal changes, certain medications (such as oral contraception, antibiotics, and steroids), autoimmune diseases, and poorly-controlled diabetes.
You can help avoid vaginal yeast infections by practicing habits that result in a clean, healthy vagina. These habits include:
- Avoiding douches, which disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina
- Avoiding scented hygiene products, such as perfumed genital powders, sprays, pads, and tampons, which disrupt the vagina’s natural balance of bacteria and can result in irritation, especially in those with fragrance sensitivities
- Changing tampons and pads often during one’s period, because menstrual products can be a breeding ground for bacteria. Changing tampons often also helps prevent Toxic Shock Syndrome
- After using the toilet, wiping front to back in order to prevent the spread of fecal bacteria into the vagina
- Avoiding underwear made of synthetic fibers, which provide poor ventilation and trap moisture
- Wearing cotton underwear and pantyhose with a cotton crotch, which will allow one’s genitals to “breathe”
- Changing out of wet swimsuits and exercise clothes as soon as possible, because warm, moist body parts and clothing are perfect hosts for bacteria
- When switching from anal sex to vaginal sex, always using condoms and changing condoms between acts to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria into the vagina
- Unless the product is glycerin-free, steer clear of using flavored condoms and lubricants in/with a vagina. Glycerin (also termed glycerol) is a sweetening agent that, when introduced to the vagina, can trigger yeast infections, especially among those who are prone to them
Although yeast infections are not known as sexually transmitted diseases, it is in fact possible for yeast infections to pass between partners during unprotected oral and penetrative sex; this is why yeast infections are often discussed alongside STIs in classes. Furthermore, it is important to note that any type of genitals can get yeast infections, not just vaginas. Therefore, I recommended that someone who has a yeast infection use barrier methods when engaging in sex play. These barrier methods include external condoms, internal condoms, dental dams, and even gloves, which are ideal for manual stimulation.
Furthermore, it’s important to note that sex itself is not to blame for yeast infections, nor is there a relationship between the number of sexual partners and the occurrence of yeast infections. That said, those who are prone to vaginal yeast infections may find that oral sex without a barrier method is a contributing factor.
Lastly, I want to stress the importance of using barrier methods during sexual activity. Not only are barrier methods useful while a partner has a yeast infection, but they’re also great at offering protection against STIs as well as preventing pregnancy. This protection can be especially meaningful to those whose concerns about STIs and pregnancy are distracting during sexual activity, hindering full enjoyment. Furthermore, barrier methods, along with sexual lubricants, can add variety to one’s sex life due to the vast array of textures, slickness, and flavors available. I suggest using lube not only outside the condom, but also placing a drop of lube inside the condom, which can add/heighten sensation for the penis-owner. That said, I recommend steering clear of spermicidal lubricants, which shorten the shelf-life of condoms and can result in irritation and micro-tears that increase the risk of STI transmission.
Finally, I want to share my personal favorite condom trick, which I learned during Megan Andelloux’s Study Sex College Tour: how to put an external condom on with one’s mouth!
1. Make sure the condom is safe to use by checking the expiration date and pinching the middle to feel for an air bubble, which will ensure the package has not been punctured. When the condom is opened (with one’s hands, not with teeth or scissors), the condom should not be sticky or brittle. If it is, throw it out and get a new one.
2. Sit the condom on the tip of one’s finger. Do not unroll it. The condom should look like a little hat, with the brim curling outwards.
3. Put the tip of the condom in one’s mouth and hold it in place by lightly sucking on it. Use one’s tongue and the suction to keep the semen reservoir flat, as to not trap in an air bubble.
4. Place one’s pursed, closed lips against the head of the cock, and slide one’s head down. Feel free to use a hand or two to aid the process and unroll the condom fully.