How Does Vaginitis Impact Your Sex Life? Myths, Truths and Treatment
If you have vaginitis, it’s likely you’re experiencing itching, burning, irritation, an odor, discharge that doesn’t look the way it typically does, or a combination of these symptoms.
You might even feel anxious, uncomfortable, or ashamed of what you’re going through. There’s no need to panic though— if you have vaginitis, there are ways to treat it and give you peace of mind. Here is everything you need to know about vaginitis, treatment, and how it impacts your sex life.
What is Vaginitis?
Vaginitis is the inflammation or irritation of your vagina or vulva. Vaginitis is the most common gynecological diagnosis and nearly every person with a vulva gets it at some point in their life, according to a paper published in the American Academy of Family Physicians Journal in 2018.
What are the symptoms of vaginitis?
The symptoms of vaginitis are odor, itching, burning, irritation of your vagina or vulva, or an abnormal color, texture, or amount of discharge. If you have vaginitis, it’s likely that you will have one, if not more of these symptoms.
"The tricky thing is, the symptoms of vaginitis are not always obvious. Sometimes, the symptoms are mild or barely noticeable"
- Julia Bennett, Director, Digital Education & Learning Strategy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), told Zumio.
What are the different types of vaginitis?
The most common types of vaginitis are bacterial vaginitis, candida (also known as a yeast infection), and trichomoniasis. You can find the different types of vaginitis, symptoms, and treatments in the table below.
1) Yeast Infection (Candida)
Symptoms: Symptoms of a yeast infection are white, thick discharge and itching and burning of the vulva (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
Treatment: Yeast infections can be treated with fluconazole, an oral antibiotic or with a number of over the counter and prescription topical creams, like clotrimazole and miconazole (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
2) Bacterial Vaginitis (BV):
Symptoms: Symptoms of bacterial vaginitis are odor, an increase in discharge, and irritation of the vulva. Some people report odor after a partner ejaculates'. You can also experience no symptoms (Gunter, 2019).
Treatments: BV can be treated orally or vaginally with metronidazole (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
Symptoms: Symptoms of trichomoniasis are green or yellow discharge, strong odor, pain with urination, and soreness and irritation of the vulva (Gunter, 2019).
Treatments: Trichomoniasis can be treated either with metronidazole or tinidazole antibiotics (Gunter, 2019).
4) Atrophic Vaginitis:
Symptoms: Symptoms of atrophic vaginitis are thin, clear discharge, vaginal dryness, and itching (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
Treatments: Atrophic vaginitis can be treated with low-dose vaginal estrogen creams, tablets, and rings (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
5) Noninfectious vaginitis:
Symptoms: The range of symptoms for noninfectious vaginitis depends on the underlying cause. Some symptoms could be burning, purulent discharge, and pain of the vulva or vagina (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
Treatments: The recommended treatment for noninfectious vaginitis is to find the underlying cause and treat it (Paladine & Desai, 2018).
What is viral vaginitis?
Viral vaginitis is the inflammation or irritation of the vulva or vagina caused by a virus. Viral vaginitis is typically caused by viruses like herpes simplex virus (HSV) or human papillomavirus (HPV).
How do you know if you have vaginitis?
You could have vaginitis if you have one or more of the following symptoms: abnormal vaginal discharge, odor, itching, burning, or irritation, says Dr. Jen Gunter, MD, in her book “The Vagina Bible.”
If you think you have vaginitis, the best way to know for sure is by seeing a medical provider and getting tested.
Julia Bennett, Director at PPFA told Zumio:
"it can be helpful to have a sense of what your vulva and vaginal discharge normally looks, feels, and smells like, so it’s easier to notice any changes that could be signs of vaginitis or other infections.”
Is vaginitis contagious? Can you give vaginitis to your partner?
Yes, if your vaginitis is caused by trichomoniasis, you can give it to your partner through sexual activity because it is an STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection).
Studies have found that bacterial vaginitis can be passed to a partner, according to Gunter, and there are mixed research results as to weather or not yeast infections can be transmitted through sex.
Does vaginitis mean you have an STI?
Having vaginitis does not necessarily mean you have an STI. One of the most common types of vaginitis is trichomoniasis and this type of vaginitis is considered an STI. A yeast infection and bacterial vaginitis on the other hand, are not STIs. If you do have trichomoniasis, there’s no need to panic.
This STI is just as easy to treat as the other types of vaginitis that are not an STI. While there’s often shame and stigma attached to STIs, there’s no need to be embarrassed about this diagnosis— remember, nearly every person with a vulva has vaginitis at some point in their life.
Can you have sex with vaginitis?
If your vaginitis is caused by trichomoniasis, you should avoid having oral, vaginal, or anal sex while you have the infection and for seven days after you have received treatment, Gunter says in her book.
If you have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginitis, having sex could cause further irritation and it’s not totally clear if you can spread it. There are, however, some creative ways to have sex and connect with a partner.
Read on to find out ways to safely embrace your sexuality with vaginitis.
Can you use a vibrator with vaginitis?
It’s safe to use a vibrator if you have vaginitis, although, depending on how irritated and painful your vulva is, it could be uncomfortable or make it difficult to heal. The one thing you need to keep in mind is that trichomoniasis can be spread via a vibrator or sex toy or you can be reinfected or pass it to a partner through a vibrator if it was used when you were infected, according to Dr. Gunter.
If you use a vibrator while you have trichomoniasis, or any other kind of vaginitis, just be sure you properly wash it before and after— this will prevent the spread of trichomoniasis. You can also use condoms on your vibrator or toy as a second precaution.
How do you have safe sex with vaginitis?
The safest way to have sex with bacterial vaginitis or a yeast infection is mutual masturbation — stimulating yourself while a partner watches or does the same to themselves.
While there is a risk of spreading trichomoniasis through mutual masturbation since the STI is spread through bodily fluids, the chances are much lower and this is a far safer kind of sex to try if you’re dying to get it on with someone.
If you decide to try mutual masturbation with vaginitis, you need to keep these things in mind:
● If you have trichomoniasis, be sure you’re a safe distance apart so that no bodily fluids can be exchanged and you don’t share any sex toys, towels, or use your hands on each other’s genitals.
● Properly wash your hands and toys before and after.
● Use fragrance free lube to reduce the likelihood of further irritating your infection.
If you have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginitis, you can also have sex by stimulating other sensitive places on the body like the nipples, neck, lower back, ears, or feet with your mouth, a vibrator, or other toys designed for sensation play.
References & Resources:
In researching the impact of vaginitis on sexual health, we came across several resources and medical articles referenced below:
- The Vagina Bible: Jen Gunter, MD (2019)
- Vaginitis: Diagnosis and Treatment, Paladine, H., Desai, U (2018)
- Vaginitis - Doctor Reviewed Reference Guide, WebMD (2020)