There's no way to dance around it: yeast infections are the worst. Since we've all had our fair share of that itch that can't be scratched, we're going to go out on a limb here and assume that you've found yourself plagued at least once, too. But what's the point of suffering in silence? It's time for some real talk about this unfortunately common experience.
According to Grace Lau, M.D., an assistant professor at the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, candida (the organism that causes most yeast infections) hangs out in your vag and gastrointestinal tract on the regular. "However," she says, "when there are changes in the vaginal environment caused by factors like certain medications, stress, or injury, the yeast can overgrow and hence, cause a yeast infection."
So, we wondered, are we unknowingly sabotaging our chances of an itch-free existence by accidentally changing our vaginal environment? Dr. Lau answered with a maybe: "Taking antiobiotics can kill off the good kind of bacteria in the vagina that keep the yeast in check, and lowered numbers of the good bacteria can allow the yeast to overgrow." She adds, "If you’re sick, or your immune system is down, or you’re immunocompromised due to a medical condition or medication, you’re more likely to get a yeast infection."
Dr. Lau continues, "Uncontrolled diabetes or high blood sugar, taking a birth control pill, or possibly the use of vaginal devices (like the diaphragm) can also put you at higher risk for yeast infections. But, in the majority of cases, yeast infections occur without an identifiable risk factor."
Because we like to plan ahead, to preempt a yeast infection Dr. Lau suggests asking your doctor for a dose of antifungal medication at the beginning and the end of taking antibiotics, and keeping control of blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. Even if you don't have diabetes, Dr. Lau says eating a high-sugar diet could increase your risk of a yeast infection. Additionally, it's a good idea to take off your wet gym clothes right after exercising, and don't hang around in that wet bathing suit. And while those lacy, synthetic underthings may be super-cute, they are actually the perfect breeding ground for candida — so stick with cotton panties and other natural, breathable fibers.
Some good news: Dr. Lau says that vaginal yeast infections aren't usually acquired through sexual transmission, however, it is possible for the yeast to be passed through sexual contact. Personally, we don't really want sexual contact when we're feeling yeasty anyway, but this was helpful to hear — just because it's not an STI doesn't mean you can't pass it. So, let's keep our own candida to ourselves, shall we? It's the considerate thing to do.
Speaking of which...we were curious about the best ways to prevent getting yeasty while getting busy, so we asked Claire Cavanah, co-founder of the sex-positive adult toy store Babeland and author of Moregasm: Babeland's Guide to Mind-Blowing Sex , for some yeast infection-reducing sex tips. "No oil-based anything should go near your vagina, including massage oils," she says. "Use silicone or water-based lubes only, and avoid glycerin lubes because glycerin is a sugar and can 'feed' a yeast infection." She adds, "If you have a yeast infection, use a condom with a partner until it's cleared up. Practice proper hygiene and wash after sex." Yes, ma'am.
Dr. Lau wrapped it up with this sage advice: As soon as you start feeling itchy or noticing irregular discharge, definitely call your doctor. Especially because it might not be a yeast infection, and a correct diagnosis is crucial if you want to get better. Here's to an itch-free summer.