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Dear Sexpert, 

I have been experiencing some itching and discomfort in my vaginal area recently. I am concerned about having sex with my boyfriend because I am worried that he might catch something from me, or that sex will irritate the area and make it worse. If it is only a yeast infection, can I still have sex?

Thanks,

—Itchy and Scratchy

Dear Itchy and Scratchy,

It is best to wait to have sex again until you are sure of the cause of the itching and fully treated for any possible infection. While it is true that vaginal itching is the classic symptom of a yeast infection, it is incredibly important that you don’t assume it’s a yeast infection. Vaginal itching can also be indicative of other vaginal infections, including sexually transmitted infections. It is best to visit a health care provider, such as Sexual Health and Wellness at University Health Services, to determine the cause of the itching.

If your discomfort is from a yeast infection, it is relatively easy to treat with over-the-counter antifungal vaginal creams. However, if you treat yourself with vaginal antifungal medication before receiving a positive diagnosis from a healthcare provider, there are potential negative consequences. Using these medications the wrong way can lead to an infection that is much more difficult to treat. Additionally, treating oneself for a yeast infection when one really has a different infection can make the problem worse.

If you do have a yeast infection, it is important to note that health experts are unsure whether or not yeast infections can be transmitted sexually. According to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 12-15 percent of men who engage in unprotected vaginal intercourse with a woman who has a yeast infection develop an itchy rash on the penis. If your partner develops these symptoms, he should see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis and treatment suggestions.

Yeast infections irritate genital tissue, and having intercourse is only going to make those feelings of rawness and itchiness worse. It can lead to additional genital infection risks and make it take even longer to heal. Also, keep in mind that latex barriers can be broken down by oil-based topical remedies like creams and suppositories, like the creams used to treat yeast infections.

To prevent another yeast infection, you should avoid douches and scented hygiene products. You should change tampons and pads frequently during your menstrual cycle. Avoid tight underwear or clothes made from synthetic materials, and wear cotton undergarments and pantyhose with a built-in cotton crotch. You should also change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty exercise clothes as quickly as you can and avoid hot tubs, especially public ones.

Currently there is no evidence of a medical reason not to engage in safe sex when you have a yeast infection. However, depending on the method of treatment recommended by your health care provider, abstaining temporarily from sex may be important to successfully treat the infection. If you are using a medicated topical cream to treat the infection, it is highly recommended to delay vaginal intercourse until the treatment is complete. The insertion of the penis into the vagina during intercourse, even when using a condom, can push the medication out of the vagina, rendering the treatment ineffective and prolonging your infection and the associated discomfort. Additionally, certain vaginal creams can be irritating to a man’s penis. The best course of action is to ask your health care provider for a recommendation based upon the treatment prescribed.

—The Sexpert

Interested in Sexual Health? The Sexpert is always looking for members of the community to join the team of sexual health educators who, along with fact-checking from University health professionals, help write these columns. Email sexpert@dailyprincetonian.com for more information and questions about sexual health. Don’t be shy!

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