Raise your hand if you've had a yeast infection. Okay, so most of us. Raise your hand if you've wondered (silently or aloud) whether you could have sex after yeast infection treatment. Come on, it can't just be me!
I faced this conundrum recently when I got back to New York City after three weeks of travel. I had one thing—er, person—at the top of my to-do list: my partner. There was just one little hiccup, though. I had a yeast infection.
As many of us know a little too well, yeast infections are incredibly common. Up to 75% of women will get one at some point in their life, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many will get more than one.
I know what you might be thinking: Why would anyone want to have sex while battling an itchy, burning vagina?
First of all, can I live?! Second, yeast infections are typically pretty easy to treat, thanks to antifungal drugs, and symptoms should calm down within a few days, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at the Yale University School of Medicine, tells SELF, though clearing the actual yeast overgrowth might take longer. (We’ll get to that in a bit.) So, yeah, it’s totally possible that someone might feel up to having sex despite being treated for a yeast infection.
Take me, for instance. When I got back from traveling, I’d already been to the gynecologist, who’d given me an oral medication to treat my yeast infection. I’d already taken one of my two prescribed doses, and I was experiencing less burning, less itching, and less weird discharge.
Naturally, I wondered: Could I safely have sex after yeast infection treatment?
I didn’t ask my gynecologist, probably because I felt too embarrassed. Instead, I pitched this story and reached out to experts to find out whether it’s actually okay to have sex when you have a yeast infection. (Because, for whatever reason, publishing a yeast infection sex guide online for all to see seemed less embarrassing to me than asking my gynecologist a simple question.) Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about yeast infections, including when it’s safe to have sex after yeast infection treatment.
As a reminder, here's what a yeast infection is.
A yeast infection happens when an overgrowth of a certain type of fungus called Candida albicans causes an infection resulting in extreme vaginal irritation and itchiness, according to the Mayo Clinic. It’s totally normal for your vagina to have things like fungus (including Candida albicans) and bacteria. In fact, your vagina naturally contains a balance of both, and a certain type of bacteria (called lactobacillus) actually works to inhibit an overgrowth of yeast.
But that balance can be disrupted. Per the Mayo Clinic, things that can disrupt that balance include:
- Antibiotics (which kill bacteria, including the healthy kind)
- Being pregnant
- Diabetes that isn’t being properly managed
- An immune system that is compromised
- Taking oral birth control or hormone therapy that boosts estrogen
Plus, anything from using scented soaps or laundry detergents to having sex can also disrupt this balance. When your vagina’s pH balance changes too much, lactobacillus bacteria may not produce enough of an acid that prevents yeast overgrowth, according to the Mayo Clinic. That allows candida fungus to grow more abundantly than usual. When this happens, you might end up with a yeast infection.
And here are the wonderful symptoms of a yeast infection.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can range from not-so-bad to moderately uncomfortable. You might deal with:
- An irritated and itchy vagina and vulva, plus redness or swelling down there
- Burning while you pee or during sex
- A painful or sore vagina
- A rash on your vagina
- A cottage-cheese-like discharge that doesn’t smell
- Discharge that’s watery
Though some people may be all too familiar with these symptoms, it’s really important to get a yeast infection diagnosed by your doctor, especially if this is your first one or if they keep coming back after you treat them. Classic yeast infection symptoms like swelling, itching, redness, burning, and strange discharge can be associated with a lot of conditions—like bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, chlamydia, gonorrhea, or even allergic reactions to scented products.
If you’re not sure of what you’re dealing with, or if you know this is a yeast infection that keeps coming back, the best course of action is to check in with your gynecologist. They can make sure what you think is a yeast infection is actually a yeast infection so you can treat it in the most effective way possible.
Let’s talk about all the kinds of yeast infection treatment.
Your line of treatment will depend on a couple of factors, including how bad your yeast infections are and how often you get them. According to the Mayo Clinic, if your symptoms aren’t terrible and you don’t get them too often, your doctor might recommend a short-course treatment of antifungal meds—which can be purchased as creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories (medication that’s inserted directly into the vagina) over-the-counter or by prescription—for three to seven days until your yeast infection clears. If your symptoms haven’t gotten better by the time you’re done with the meds, that’s a sign the infection has stuck around and you should see your gynecologist. Another yeast infection treatment option is an oral medication, which you can take as a single dose. If your symptoms are more severe, you might need to take two pills, three days apart.
If you’re still experiencing symptoms when you shouldn’t, your doctor might recommend some kind of longer-course therapy, like a prescription medication you can use for up to two weeks or a multidose oral medication, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Depending on the type of medication, you can either get these antifungals over the counter or through a prescription from your gynecologist. (For example, you can get many three- or seven-day vaginal suppositories and creams OTC, while single-dose oral medication may require a prescription.) The type of treatment you get really depends on your preferences, Dr. Minkin says.
Cool, cool. So when can you have sex again?
Here's the thing: Even though your symptoms may subside shortly after you start treatment, that doesn’t mean your yeast infection is actually gone. No matter the type of yeast infection medication you take, symptoms should abate within days of you starting treatment. That doesn’t necessarily mean your yeast overgrowth has been tamed, though, Dr. Minkin says.
It’s tricky to say how long various medications take to actually clear a yeast infection from your system, Dr. Minkin says. Since you always have yeast in your vagina, it’s not like medication is going to bring it down to zero. It’s really about getting your yeast to a point where it’s not so overgrown it’s causing symptoms, and that’s a different point for every person, Dr. Minkin explains. This is why it’s so important to finish the full course of treatment, even if you start feeling better.
But it’s also why you might want to hold off on having sex for a bit—it could take longer than a few days to actually clear the infection.
Okay, so hypothetically, what could happen if you have sex before your yeast infection is totally gone? As it turns out, a few things:
Sex might just further irritate your vagina.
Your vagina can get inflamed and irritated when you have a yeast infection, hence all that itching and discomfort. Any sort of sexual play that involves inserting something into your vagina might exacerbate these symptoms.
Penetrative acts tend to involve a lot of friction, which can create micro-abrasions in your vagina if it’s already irritated, Jacques Moritz, an ob-gyn at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, tells SELF. Those tiny tears can cause your poor vagina to feel even more inflamed. Plus, micro-tears in your vagina can make you more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections because they create openings for illness-causing pathogens to enter, Dr. Moritz says.
Sex could mess with your treatment—and vice versa.
Even if penetrative sex doesn’t make your yeast infection feel worse, it could disrupt the healing process depending on your treatment method. Penetrative sex can push creams and suppositories right out of your vagina, so you may not be exposed to the full dose, according to Dr. Moritz.
Also worth noting: Vaginally administered yeast infection suppositories, ointments, and creams can actually damage some condoms and diaphragms since they contain oil, which erodes latex, according to the Mayo Clinic.
If you’re using an oral antifungal, though, that shouldn’t be an issue, Dr. Minkin says. While vaginal creams often come with warnings to refrain from sex, that’s not the case for oral yeast infection medications. Still, you may want to avoid having sex until your yeast infection clears for some of the other reasons described here.
One last thing: If you’re putting off taking your yeast infection medication until after you have sex, you’re obviously going to prolong your healing period. I totally understand not wanting to deal with suppositories and the like in the bedroom, but the longer you wait to start treatment, the longer your yeast infection will stick around.
Also, you might pass it to your partner.
If you have unprotected oral or penetrative intercourse while you have a yeast infection, you could potentially pass the infection on to your partner, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health. Yeast is essentially an equal-opportunity organism. An overgrowth-induced infection can crop up in vaginas, penises, and even the mouth, throat, or esophagus. The good news is that this rarely happens due to sex, Lauren Streicher, M.D., an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, tells SELF.
Penile yeast infections are characterized by abnormally moist skin, shiny white spots, redness, itching, or burning, according to the Mayo Clinic. Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health, about 15% of men get an itchy rash on their penis after unprotected sex with a woman who has a vaginal yeast infection, so it’s worth being aware of this risk.
Yeast infections in your mouth or throat can cause symptoms like redness, soreness, pain while eating and swallowing, loss of taste, cracks or redness at the corners of your mouth, and a “cottony” feeling in your mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They can also lead to white patches on your tongue, inner cheeks, throat, and the roof of your mouth. The CDC notes that these infections are “uncommon in healthy adults” and most likely to affect babies or someone with a compromised immune system.
Penile and oral yeast infections can both be treated with antifungal medications, but you can lower the risk of your partner contracting one by waiting to have sex until your yeast infection symptoms are gone and you’ve completed the full course of treatment (or waited seven days if you took a single-dose pill). If you really want to have sex before that, use a condom or a dental dam to lower the chances of passing your yeast infection to your partner.
Bottom line: It’s best to wait until you’re sure the yeast infection is gone.
Suffice it to say, having sex with a yeast infection is a complicated practice—and one you’ll probably want to avoid.
If you’re treating your yeast infection with a cream, an ointment, or a vaginal suppository, you run the risk of making your medication less effective—and in turn prolonging your yeast infection. If you’re treating it with an oral medication, you still have to worry about further irritating your vagina, making yourself susceptible to other infections, and potentially passing your infection to your partner. Ultimately, waiting until your symptoms are gone and you’re done with treatment—or at least seven days have passed, if you went the oral route—may help you avoid a total headache (and vagina ache too).
In the meantime, there are some things you can do to prevent a yeast infection from happening again in the future. The Mayo Clinic suggests avoiding tight-fitting underwear that isn't cotton, avoiding douches or really any hygiene products with fragrance, and taking antibiotics only when you really need to them.
- 11 Reasons Your Vagina Smells a Little…Off
- Is It Ever OK to Treat a Yeast Infection on Your Own?
- Recurrent Yeast Infections Are the Worst—Here's How to Handle Them
Originally Appeared on Self