Vaginal yeast infections affect approximately 1 million women in the United States each year. Although these infections are not considered sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sex can increase the risk of developing a yeast infection. Yeast infections can also make sex painful or uncomfortable. Happily, once diagnosed, most cases of yeast infections are easily treated with medication.
In this article, I’ll describe the common symptoms and causes of yeast infections. I’ll also cover whether yeast infections can spread between sexual partners and when it’s recommended to resume penetrative or oral sex after a yeast infection. Finally, I’ll explain when it’s important to reach out to your provider for medical advice.
What Is a Yeast Infection?
The vagina is home to a type of yeast called candida albicans. When this candida fungus is balanced by the natural bacteria in the vagina, there’s no worry. However, when good lactobacillus bacteria can’t keep candida in check, it leads to an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina.
Also called vaginal candidiasis, a vaginal yeast infection is a type of vaginitis (or vulvovaginitis). This is simply the term for any condition that causes inflammation of the vagina. Vaginal yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, another type of vaginitis, share some common symptoms and can sometime occur simultaneously, so it’s important to see a doctor to determine which condition you have.
Symptoms and Causes
A vaginal yeast infection can be mild or super uncomfortable. The most common symptoms of a yeast infection include:
- Itching in the genital area
- Thick, white, odorless vaginal discharge that has the consistency of cottage cheese
- Redness or swelling of the vagina and/or vulva
- Cuts or cracks in the skin of the vulva
- Vaginal pain or soreness
- Burning sensation during urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Vaginal rash
- Vaginal dryness
Several things can cause an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina. Some of the most common causes of vaginal yeast infections are:
- Antibiotic medications: While antibiotics are beneficial because they kill harmful bacteria that cause infections, unfortunately they also kill good bacteria, like the lactobacillus that helps keep candida in check.
- Hormonal changes: Whether due to the menstrual cycle, hormonal contraceptives (like the birth control pill), pregnancy, or estrogen therapy, shifts in hormone levels can disrupt the balance of yeast and healthy bacteria in the vagina.
- Diabetes: This condition causes increased sugar levels in both the urine and the vagina. This can trigger yeast overgrowth.
- Weakened immune system: Chronic medical conditions (such as HIV) as well as immunosuppressant medications can impact the growth of vaginal yeast.
- Hygiene: Yeast loves warm, moist environments. So wearing sweaty or wet clothing or swimsuits or tight, non-breathable underwear can encourage yeast growth.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as miconazole (Monistat) or prescription drugs can treat your yeast infection. These antifungal medications come as creams, ointments, pills, or vaginal suppositories in one-, three-, or seven-day strengths.
Especially if it’s your first time experiencing yeast infection symptoms, it’s best to talk to your gynecologist or doctor before trying any treatments. Many signs of a yeast infection also occur with other types of vaginitis, but the appropriate treatment for each condition differs. You want to be sure to use medication that’s proven to eliminate your specific infection.
Can Sex Cause a Yeast Infection?
Yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and sex is not considered a direct cause of a yeast infection. However, sexual activity—especially unprotected sex—may increase the risk of developing a yeast infection.
This is because some sexual activities—such as oral sex and penetration with a finger, penis, or sex toy—can introduce new bacteria to the vagina. This can disrupt the natural balance of bacteria and, in turn, cause an overgrowth of yeast.
Can you get a yeast infection from oral sex?
Though it has not been extensively researched, some studies suggest that receiving oral sex can increase the risk of vaginal yeast infection. Researchers believe that bacteria from a partner’s mouth, tongue, or gums that’s transferred during oral sex may disrupt bacteria in the vagina or vulva, leading to a yeast infection. Because candida can also exist in the oral cavity, receiving oral sex from a partner who has oral thrush may put you at higher risk of developing a yeast infection.
Can a man give a woman a yeast infection?
Though the risk is low, it is possible for a yeast infection to pass during penile-vaginal intercourse. In fact, approximately 15% of people who have penises and engage in unprotected penetrative sex with someone who has a yeast infection develop an itchy rash on their penis. If this happens to your partner, they should consult with their doctor immediately to determine whether or not they have a penile yeast infection.
Keep in mind, dental dams and condoms can help prevent you and your partner from passing yeast infections to one another during sex.
Can You Have Sex with a Yeast Infection?
If you have a diagnosed yeast infection, it’s best to avoid having vaginal sex or receiving oral sex until the infection has been cleared. There are a few reasons why:
- Pain or discomfort: With a yeast infection, you’re likely to experience a range of uncomfortable or painful symptoms, some of which can be exacerbated by the friction experienced during sex. In some cases, having sex with a yeast infection can also cause painful urination.
- Condom breakage: Some oils used in topical treatments for yeast infections can cause condoms to break. If you’re relying on condoms for contraception and/or STI prevention, this can increase your risk of pregnancy or an STI.
- Yeast infection transmission: Though rare, it is possible to pass your yeast infection along to your partner. This risk is greater if your partner also has a vagina.
How long should you wait to have sex after a yeast infection?
It’s best to wait until your infection has gone away to resume vaginal sex or receiving oral sex. Depending on the type of treatment your healthcare provider recommends, this time frame varies between 1-7 days.
What happens if you have sex with a yeast infection?
Having sex with a yeast infection can cause some painful or uncomfortable symptoms, including increased irritation, redness, itching, and painful urination. Though rare, it is also possible that you can pass your yeast infection along to your partner during sex. Finally, if you’re using a topical treatment for your yeast infection and engaging in protected sex, it can increase the risk of condom breakage.
Should I be worried about painful sex after a yeast infection?
Once you’ve completed treatment for a yeast infection and the infection has cleared, you should not experience pain during sex. If you do, reach out to your doctor.
How to Prevent a Yeast Infection After Sex
You can take action to help prevent a yeast infection after sex by:
- Keeping the vaginal area dry and clean.
- Rinsing or cleaning your vagina with only water. (Avoid feminine cleansing products, scented products such as tampons, and douches.)
- Wearing breathable, cotton underwear.
When to See a Doctor
Since the symptoms of a yeast infection may also indicate another type of infection, it’s beneficial to talk to your women’s health provider anytime you experience a change in your vaginal health. Your doctor can determine if you have a yeast infection or another condition. Then, with this proper diagnosis, they can help you determine the best treatment option.
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