I Passed a Yeast Infection to My Partner Through Sex, and It Wasn’t Pretty
Although it's not a sexually transmitted infection, it is possible to give your partner a yeast infection after sex, experts say. Here's what to know about yeast infection symptoms in men and how to prevent them.
When becoming intimate in a new relationship, it’s normal to have a thousand thoughts firing off in your head during sex: Do I smell down there? How does my body look in this position? Is he going to orgasm? Am I going to orgasm? But for me, those thoughts had never included Am I going to give my boyfriend a yeast infection?
Like many women, I was familiar with yeast infections. I knew the telltale symptoms (itching, burning, and cottage cheese-like discharge) and that hormonal birth control, antibiotics, or even wearing yoga pants all day might up your risk. What I didn't know, though, is that I could actually give my yeast infection symptoms to a partner.
When my boyfriend and I were newly dating, I noticed sex felt a bit more painful than normal. I suspected I had the beginnings of a yeast infection, and mentioned to him that I needed to go to the drugstore to pick up an over-the-counter antifungal treatment. At the time, my S.O. didn't tell me that he had also started to experience itching, pain, swelling, and, bizarrely enough, "peeling" downstairs. He didn't connect his symptoms to my yeast infection, and instead, was concerned that he might have leprosy (to this day, this makes me LOL).
My boyfriend decided to text his brother, a doctor, and explain his symptoms. In response, his brother asked him to send a picture so he could get a better idea of what was causing the swelling and peeling skin. (Yes, my modest boyfriend had to send a nude photo to his sibling.) After receiving the photo, his brother quickly digitally diagnosed him with a yeast infection and told him to buy antifungal medication. After applying the cream for a few days, my BF's yeast infection was gone, like it never happened. If only.
Sure enough, although yeast infections are not sexually transmitted infections, it is possible to pass them to a partner: According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Service's Office on Women's Health, about 15% of men develop symptoms such as an itchy rash after having sex with a woman who has the infection. Other yeast infection symptoms in men can include redness, a burning sensation, and patches of shiny, white skin on the penis.
Although vaginal sex is the most likely method of transmission, it's not the only one you have to consider. "If a woman or man is giving oral sex to a partner with a yeast infection, there is the chance of yeast spreading into the oral cavity, called thrush or oral thrush," says Sherry A. Ross, MD, a Los Angeles-based ob-gyn and author of Sheology ($26; amazon.com). Symptoms like an itchy, irritated mouth with white patches or sores might point to oral thrush.
Since the vagina is a warm breeding ground for bacteria and yeast, do two female partners have a higher risk of passing a yeast infection to each other? Suzanne Fenske, MD, assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai tells us that if vaginal fluids are exchanged, such as through shared sex toys, there is a small risk of this.
Regardless of how you contracted it, make an appointment with your doctor to confirm that your symptoms are in fact a yeast infection and get prescribed treatment. Dr. Fenske also suggests saline solution bathing, because it creates an environment that's particularly for healing.
As for other down-there issues such as urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bacterial vaginosis (BV), can you also transmit those through intercourse? While you can develop a UTI after sex (the urethra is right next to the vagina, so bacteria in the vagina can transfer to the urethra and bladder, triggering an infection), you can't pass it to a partner, experts say. With BV, the environment in the vagina may be affected by intercourse. "Semen can change the pH of the vagina, which can result in the ratio of the perfect balance of good versus bad bacteria [changing], which can result in the symptoms of bacterial vaginosis," explains Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD, a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology. You can't pass BV to a male partner, she adds, but two female partners may transfer it to each other, such as by sharing sex toys.
And what if you have a yeast infection and really, really want to have sex? (Hey, it happens.) All of our experts were in unison about this: Abstinence will make it easier to manage your infection. Not to mention, intercourse will most likely be uncomfortable or painful when symptoms are flaring up. "If you know you have a vaginal infection you should not have sex until it is completely treated," says Dr. Ross.