Have you ever had a yeast infection? Maybe you’re like me and you’ve had one more than ten times, cause if you’re a cis woman or someone else who has a vagina, there’s a 75% chance you’ll get one in your lifetime. (Stats for penile yeast infections are harder to find, but data suggests the figure is around 15% in a lifetime). Maybe you’re part of the 5% of people who have recurrent yeast infections, which is characterised by four or more episodes in a year. Or, maybe you’ve been lucky enough to have never had one.
A yeast infection, also known as thrush or candidiasis, is a fungal infection caused by the overgrowth of the yeast Candida. Candidiasis can affect many areas of the body, especially ones inclined to be damp or warm like the mouth, throat, or groin area. According to the CDC, Candidiasis of the mouth or throat is called thrush, while Candidiasis of the vagina is commonly called a yeast infection, but a quick Google of thrush brings up largely results for vaginal thrush, so this may vary from place to place. Yeast infections aren’t considered to be STIs because they can occur in a variety of ways outside of sex, but thrush can be sexually transmitted if barrier methods of protection aren’t used.
Vaginal yeast infections are characterised by burning, itching, redness, or soreness of the vagina, as well as a thick white cottage cheese-like discharge. This may also be accompanied by a burning sensation when urinating, and pain during vaginal penetration. For yeast infections of the penis, symptoms are the same, but the soreness and itching occurs on the head of the penis.
Yeast infections can happen to anyone, but are vastly more likely to occur to people who are pregnant, on oral contraceptives, diabetic, or taking antibiotics. Anecdotally, antibiotics are particularly awful for causing yeast infections – if I’m on antibiotics, I’ll get an infection almost without fail, sometimes even if I take probiotics, and I’m not the only one. Stress and diet can also be factors which influence likelihood of getting a yeast infection.
Curing yeast infections can be super easy, but it can also be a massive struggle depending on the person. When I was getting yeast infections chronically (probably because I was on oral contraceptives and having condomless sex), sometimes my period would cure a mild one, because menstrual blood can raise vaginal pH to a level where yeast can’t grow. There are a variety of over-the-counter solutions, including a single oral tablet which claims to be a one stop shop (but often isn’t) and a cream which is inserted deep into the vagina and left to drip out disgustingly through the course of the next day, which makes for a great treatment week. There’s also an external cream which can help with the redness and itching.
There are also a variety of recommended approaches to prevention, like ‘wear cotton underwear’ and ‘wash your hands before touching your vagina!’, which are easily available through Google. These are well intentioned, but quite infuriating if you’re doing everything right and still experiencing chronic infections.
Yeast infections pretty easy to identify if you get a lot of them, but can be quite easily confused for bacterial vaginosis, so if you have abnormal discharge and you’re not sure what’s wrong, a GP can help diagnose you with a simple examination and a sample of your vaginal secretions. If you’re struggling with persistent yeast infections, I urge you to chat to a health professional about the best options for you and offer you my empathy, as yeast infections are just plain shit. I think it’s important that we destigmatise getting yeast infections, because it’s so common but no-one talks about it, which can make getting them super scary and shameful. I get heaps of yeast infections, and it’s OK if you do too.
Anon young person