I’ve been with my partner for about a year, and in most ways our relationship is everything I want. We communicate really well, we have a great time together, our sex life is amazing, and I always feel supported by him. The problem is my vagina.
For the first time in my life, I’m dealing with a variety of uncomfortable vaginal issues, most frequently yeast infections and BV (bacterial vaginosis). The onset of these almost-constant infections coincided exactly with the beginning of our sexual relationship so I’m hard-pressed to ascribe them to anything besides him (diet hasn’t changed, neither has my laundry detergent, birth control method, etc.).
I’m lucky enough to work for a super pleasure-positive, body-positive reproductive healthcare center so getting my medical needs addressed isn’t an issue. But I’m so uncomfortable so much of the time! I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help being a little resentful towards my partner. I even get stressed out and depressed about my body not “liking” the person I love so much.
I know it’s not his fault — it’s nobody’s fault — but I miss not having to deal with these things! We do everything recommended to prevent infections but nothing seems to help. Any advice or words of wisdom for me?
Dear BV Blues,
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is the most common vaginal infection for folks age 15-44 years old (CDC, 2017). Similarly to yeast infections, BV is an infection caused by an overgrowth of the “bad” bacteria that is present in all vaginas, usually triggered by the vagina’s natural pH balance being thrown off kilter.
This throwing off (as I’m sure you’ve already painstakingly researched) can be caused by a lot of things: lube ingredients (like glycerin & parabens), changes in medications, hot-n-sweaty environments like wearing a wet bathing suit for too long on a hot summer day (lifegaurds run into this issue a lot), or the certain ways your partner’s body’s natural bacteria interacts with yours.
You seem well-resourced, but just to make sure we’re all being thorough, here are some classic tips to avoiding BV and yeast infections: making sure there’s no glycerin, parabens, or other irritating additives in your lube; rule out a latex allergy if you’re using condoms/gloves/dams; pee before and after sex to flush your vagina the old-fashioned way; and maybe even consider a supplement like a probiotic or cranberry pill to help your body reinforce its own pH-balance.
And then there are some other, lesser-known suggestions that might be worth exploring (if relevant). One is to avoid having your partner ejaculate inside of your vagina as this can actually exacerbate BV symptoms.
If you’re experiencing yeast infections (rather than BV which, is non-transmittable to penises) and your partner is uncircumcised, it’s actually possible that he himself has a recurring yeast infection that y’all are passing between the two of you.
An even lesser-explored option is to look into some kind of trauma therapy that focuses specifically on the body’s response to past traumas such as EMDR therapy or biofeedback. Sometimes, the body can trap and hold trauma which it then expresses in a variety of ways that serve to protect you from something that your brain/body associates with the original trauma (for example, triggering BV in response to past sexual trauma, or triggering panic attacks in response to past trauma activated by a certain sound, context, phrase, or smell).
You’re absolutely right — these recurring symptoms are incredibly discouraging and are nobody’s fault (not yours, not his, and no, not even your vagina’s). Perhaps most destructively, these symptoms are creating a negative feedback loop that’s worth disentangling before it seeps into other areas of your relationship. Though it feels as though your body will never cure itself from chronic BV according to the interventions you’ve tried so far, it’s certainly possible that the mental/emotional impact of it isn’t making anything better and, in fact, could likely be making it worse.
Seeing a sex therapist or couples counselor together to discuss ways you can both collaborate against this issue and/or strategize ways to better cope with it is wise. Because nothing sours a relationship faster than resentments, not even a chronically itchy vagina.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.