Are Yeast Infections Sexually Transmitted?

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Ask any woman who has ever had a yeast infection about the experience, and you'll get an earful. She'll likely agree that yeast infections are the scourge of womankind. They not only cause horrible itching and make sex painful. Yeast infections also have the same annoying habit as certain visiting relatives. First, they refuse to go away and then they keep coming back.

For many women, yeast infections are the gift that keeps on giving.

They are frequent and recurrent. Worse, it's often unclear why that is the case. Is it because they're sexually transmitted? Or is it something else that's going on.

Yeast Infections and Sexual Activity 

Yeast infections are frequently associated with sexual activity. This is similar to the way that bacterial vaginosis is associated with sex. Sexual behavior can disrupt the normal vaginal flora and/or cause irritation that make the environment more yeast friendly. However, yeast infections are not generally considered to be sexually transmitted diseases.

It is theoretically possible for a candida (yeast) infection to be transmitted sexually That said, sexual transmission of yeast is probably a relatively rare occurrence. Far more common are yeast infections associated with sex, due to disruption in the normal vaginal flora, or from other non-sexual causes.

Other Risk Factors of Yeast Infections

Many women find that they are particularly likely to experience yeast infections after finishing a course of antibiotics.

This is because antibiotics can disrupt the lactobacilli that are the main component of the normal vaginal flora. These bacteria are cousins to the ones found in yogurt. They produce several substances that inhibit the growth of yeast. Therefore a healthy vaginal ecosystem is considered somewhat protective against yeast infections.

Another risk factor for recurrent yeast infections is being HIV positive. Women with HIV are more likely to experience recurrent yeast infections. However, they are not necessarily more severe yeast infections than those experienced by women who are HIV negative. There was a great deal of misinformation on this point in the early days of the HIV epidemic.

Additional risk factors for yeast infections include:

  • Using certain types of hormonal contraception
  • Regular use of plastic pantiliners
  • Use of feminine hygiene products that can disrupt the normal vaginal flora
  • Impaired glucose metabolism. (This can alter the sugars present in the vagina, making it a better place for yeast to grow. Women with poorly controlled diabetes are at increased risk of yeast infections, both vaginal and elsewhere.)

However, it's important to note that some of those factors may be bidirectional. For example, a woman with recurrent yeast infections might think that she needs panty liners or hygiene products. Using them could then make her infection worse. 

Recurrent Yeast Infections

Women who have recurrent yeast infections may want to discuss their condition with a specialist. Lifestyle changes may help. They may also need a more intensive course of anti-fungal therapy than many gynecologists are willing to provide.

Sources:

Borges S, Silva J, Teixeira P. The role of lactobacilli and probiotics in maintaining vaginal health. Arch Gynecol Obstet. 2014 Mar;289(3):479-89. doi: 10.1007/s00404-013-3064-9.

Donders GG, Bellen G, Mendling W. Management of recurrent vulvovaginal candidosis as a chronic illness. Gynecol Obstet Invest. 2010;70(4):306-21. doi: 10.1159/000314022.

Gonçalves B, Ferreira C, Alves CT, Henriques M, Azeredo J, Silva S. Vulvovaginal candidiasis: Epidemiology, microbiology and risk factors. Crit Rev Microbiol. 2016 Nov;42(6):905-27. doi: 10.3109/1040841X.2015.1091805.

Muzny CA, Rivers CA, Parker CJ, Mena LA, Austin EL, Schwebke JR. Lack of evidence for sexual transmission of genital Candida species among women who have sex with women: mixed methods study. Sex Transm Infect. 2014 Mar;90(2):165-70. doi: 10.1136/sextrans-2013-051361.

Sobel JD. Vulvovaginal candidiasis: a comparison of HIV-positive and -negative women. Int J STD AIDS. 2002 Jun;13(6):358-62

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