The warmth and wetness of the vagina might be nice during sex, but it’s also a haven for many infections. In fact, these infections are so common that nearly all women will experience at least one in her life.
It gets even trickier when you find out most of them have similar symptoms.
This quick overview will give you an idea of what to expect….
7 COMMON VAGINAL INFECTIONS
1. YEAST INFECTIONS
One of the most common infections women can get. It’s caused by the Candida fungus which naturally lives in the body or on the skin; wherever it’s dark, moist, and warm (but in small numbers). When the number of good bacteria in the body is reduced or imbalanced, the yeast will grow unchecked.
SYMPTOMS – a chunky discharge many women compare to a yellowish cottage cheese, itchy, swelling, and pain.
RELATION TO SEX – Do not have sex if you have a yeast infection. There is a chance you can pass it to your partner – yes, men can get this too. Can be passed to the skin or mouth as well.
2. BACTERIAL VAGINOSIS
Low levels of friendly bacteria (Lactobacilli) can also trigger bacterial vaginosis (BV). In some cases, a different bacterium (usually Gardnerella) will start to grow, causing an infection.
SYMPTOMS – A thick, white OR slippery and clear discharge that might smell fishy.
RELATION TO SEX – Unlike a yeast infection, BV can’t be passed to a male partner. However, it still needs to be treated.
A common vaginal infection – and the only “true” sexually transmitted infection. Caused by a single-celled parasite.
SYMPTOMS – Similar reactions to a yeast infection, yellow or greenish discharge and fishy odor. Sometimes pain during urination.
RELATION TO SEX – It can be passed through intercourse or genital contact (men or women). But not everyone shows symptoms.
4. CHLAMYDIA VAGINITIS
A sexually transmitted disease. Long-term exposure can damage fertility.
SYMPTOMS – inflammation of the vagina and bleeding after intercourse. Occasionally with discharge.
RELATION TO SEX – It can be passed through intercourse or genital contact (men or women).
5. NONINFECTIOUS VAGINITIS
The skin around the vagina becomes irritated from additives/scents – things like scented tampons, perfumed soaps, douches, vaginal spray, spermicides, fabric softeners etc. Not really an infection, more of an irritation.
SYMPTOMS – Discomfort, irritation, itching, discharge, pain during sex.
RELATION TO SEX – None. Simply discontinue use of irritation products and abstain from sex until the discomfort goes away.
Chronic pain in the vulva. No known cause. Can be quite debilitating to some women.
SYMPTOMS – burning, stinging, rawness, swelling etc.
RELATION TO SEX – No partner-to-partner infections, but intercourse can be painful.
7. VIRAL VAGINOSIS
Infections caused by a virus rather than bacteria. Herpes Simplex is a common example. HPV is another, and it can cause cancer.
SYMPTOMS – Genital pain from lesions or sores. Can be found outside the vulva or in the vaginal canal.
RELATION TO SEX – Can be passed on through unprotected sex.
WHY YOU NEED YOUR DOCTOR
The problem with most of these infections is that the symptoms are nearly the same – swelling, pain, itchy, discomfort, pain during sex, discharge etc.
So, while you might think you have a yeast infection (and you just need a trip to the pharmacy) it might be something else. If you have access to healthcare, and you are experiencing these symptoms, visit a doctor or (even better) your gynecologist.
HOW TO AVOID THESE INFECTIONS
First, practicing safer sex will go a long way. However, this doesn’t mean contraceptives – you need a “barrier” method like a condom or female condom (something that protects against STD/STIs) to keep you and your partner as infection-free as possible.
Second, practicing good hygiene is paramount – this includes wearing new underwear every day, not washing with irritating soaps, avoiding douches or vaginal sprays, getting some air flow between your legs (if you suffer from humid climates or wear a lot of tight clothing).
Third, pay attention to how long you are on any antibiotics because the medication can often kill off the good bacteria that keep yeast at bay and pave the way for a yeast infection etc.