Seventy-five percent of people with vaginas experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime, while nearly 30% of people will experience bacterial vaginosis. Yeast infections and bacterial infections are extremely common, and in fact, you’ve probably experienced one before. Although they are so common, they are not commonly talked about due to stigma or discomfort, so you might not even know the difference between the two. Luckily, I have no discomfort in talking about anything related to sexual health or vaginas, so I can tell you all about these two infections experienced by nearly everyone with a vagina!
Yeast and bacterial infections are both types of vaginitis. Vaginitis is when the vulva (the outer folds of the vagina), and/or vagina (the actual canal inside the body), are inflamed and irritated. This is caused by a number of different things such as wearing a wet swimsuit for too long, using scented laundry detergent, or having sex.
What are yeast infections?
A yeast infection, also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, occurs when the natural yeast in your vagina grows out of control. Vaginas have yeast in them, and this yeast usually exists without any problems. Your vaginal yeast can grow out of control if the natural balance of your vagina gets thrown off. This can happen due to changes in hormones during a menstrual cycle or pregnancy, from taking antibiotics, a weak immune system, or through a “natural reaction to another person’s genital chemistry.” Yeast infections aren’t contagious, and they aren’t STDs, however, you could disrupt your body’s natural yeast by coming in contact with someone whose genital yeast you don’t jive with. For example, you could get a yeast infection after having sex with a new partner because their genital yeast irritates you. Crazy, right? Additionally, if you notice certain products like bath bombs or laundry detergent irritate your vulva, get rid of them, as these can cause the infection as well.
What are the symptoms of yeast infections?
The most common symptoms of yeast infections are redness, itchiness, and discomfort of the vulva and vagina. You might experience some thick, white, “cottage cheese” like discharge, although not everyone with a yeast infection has a change in discharge. Although the discharge might look different, a change in the smell of discharge with a yeast infection isn’t noticeable. You might also notice a white coating in the folds of your vulva or vagina. If you have a lot of irritation or if you scratch at your itchy crotch, it might also sting a little bit when you pee. Although these symptoms might seem alarming, yeast infections are easily treatable.
Yeast infections are treated with anti-fungal medicine in the form of a cream or pill. You can get over-the-counter yeast infection medicine like Monistat, or your doctor can prescribe you some. Usually, this cream can be put on the vulva and is inserted into the vagina as well. Although yeast infections aren’t STDs or contagious, you should wait to have sex or put anything in your vagina until you are done with your treatment to avoid further irritation.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Now, onto bacterial vaginosis! Similar to yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis or BV, is caused by an imbalance in your vagina. BV is caused when the healthy bacteria in your vagina get out of balance and grow too much. Anything that throws off the natural pH of your vagina can incite this imbalance and lead to BV. A lot of things can throw off your vaginal pH, including scented pads or tampons, scented toilet paper, having new or multiple sexual partners, or douching. Truthfully, a lot of the things that can cause a yeast infection can also cause BV.
How is it different from a yeast infection?
Eighty-four percent of people with BV don’t experience symptoms or their symptoms are so mild they don’t even notice. If you do experience symptoms, however, they include irritation similar to the yeast infection, and a fishy-smelling discharge that can be thin, milky white, or grayish in color. The fishy smell is often strongest after sex or while you pee. As with a yeast infection, BV isn’t an STD and is easily treatable, although having BV can increase your risk of getting an STD.
BV is treated with antibiotics. Similar to yeast infection treatment, these antibiotics are either in gel or cream form that you put in the vagina or in a pill form. Again, wait to have sex or put things in your vagina until you finish your antibiotics and your symptoms clear up. If you have frequent bouts of BV, taking probiotics can help balance out your body’s natural bacteria.
Although uncomfortable and annoying, both of these forms of vaginitis are fairly common, and you’ll probably experience one or both at least once in your life (if you have a vagina of course). Because these infections are so common, there’s no reason to be embarrassed or ashamed if you experience either. The yeast and bacteria in your vagina can be thrown off by many little things, so it is important to pay attention to your body, your vulva, and your vagina. It’s easy to discount a little itchiness or discomfort as “normal,” but it could be your body telling you that you have a yeast or bacterial infection. Pay attention to your symptoms and see a doctor if you think you have an infection. After a few days of taking medicine, you should feel better!