What I Didn’t Know About My Chronic Yeast Infections

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. My posts are based on my experiences as a patient and my subsequent research. Please consult your doctor before making any changes that may affect your health!

Between five and eight percent of women get more than four yeast infections in a year, known as chronic yeast infections — and since I was 17, I have been one of them.

When I started taking the pill at 15, I loved it. My cramps were less intense, my periods were lighter and my boobs were bigger — so, what wasn’t to love? Then, I became sexually active and quickly discovered that things were not as balmy as they seemed: I began experiencing pain, thick discharge and vaginal dryness with sex.

That year, I went on to be diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections multiple times. Each time, my doctors couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with me. At one point, I was even prescribed a topical estrogen cream usually given to women going through menopause to relieve my pain and dryness associated with these infections. Meanwhile, at 17, my sex life was already suffering — I experienced so much pain that I couldn’t orgasm, began to view myself as a “failure” in the bedroom and started avoiding sexual activity whenever I could.

When I went off the pill, I assumed the problem would go away — but it didn’t. In college, I had recurrent bacterial vaginosis, which was always treated with an antibiotic gel that caused yeast infections as a side effect. As a result, I was having two infections a month for over a year. For so long, I wondered what was wrong with me…. and then I learned something that changed my life:

Endometriosis has been linked to chronic vaginal infections.

I learned this after my diagnosis of suspected endometriosis, and my mind was BLOWN. For years, I’d been suffering in silence, thinking there was something wrong with my body, when so much of what bothered me could be explained by a disease shared by one in ten women worldwide! I had been doing everything I could to prevent vaginal infections — taking probiotics, eating yogurt, avoiding sitting in sweaty clothing for long periods of time — yet still couldn’t seem to get rid of them. Now, things were finally starting to make sense. I was so overwhelmed with joy, I practically cried in the car on the way home from my doctor’s appointment.

Don’t get me wrong: if you suffer from chronic yeast infections, it’s important to see your doctor for testing and treatment. Chronic yeast infections can be a sign of diabetes, and untreated yeast infections can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (which may cause infertility down the line); these are just two reasons why you should always consult your doctor when you get multiple yeast infections in a year. However, if you suffer from endometriosis as well as chronic yeast infections that cannot be explained, it’s worth considering whether your endometriosis could be to blame.

Here’s what I’ve learned about the link between endometriosis and yeast infections, as well as some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up over the years to lessen the frequency of yeast infections and help clear them up faster.

The Relationship Between Endometriosis and Chronic Yeast Infections

There’s a link between chronic yeast infections and endometriosis, but it’s still not clear why these two conditions often overlap. According to the book Endometriosis for Dummies, there’s no conclusive research to show why endometriosis and chronic yeast infections frequently occur together.

One possible explanation involves the link between endometriosis and autoimmune diseases; immunocomprimization may also increase your risk for frequent infections. Endometriosis sufferers are also more prone to allergies, which may make you intolerant to even normal levels of candida, resulting in vaginitis.

Another explanation could result from the link between candida albicans (the strain of yeast responsible for vaginal infections) and estrogen dominance. Yeast overgrowth is more likely when your estrogen levels are too high and your progesterone levels are too low — which, you may remember from my blog post on estrogen balance, is another sign of endometriosis.

How to Manage Chronic Yeast Infections

If you have endometriosis, the bad news is that chronic yeast infections may be something you have to live with forever. The good news, however, is that there are many preventative measures you can take to reduce the frequency of yeast infections and make yourself more comfortable when you do get them.

Based on my years (and years) of experience, here is some of my best advice on managing chronic yeast infections:

  • Beware of homeopathic remedies. Over the years, I’ve heard of many at-home remedies for yeast infections. (One even involved tying a clove of garlic to a string and putting it up your vagina like a tampon.) But yeast infections are not to be f*cked with, okay? The consequences of an untreated yeast infection can be serious, including Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. PID can lead to scarring of the ovaries and fallopian tubes, which contributes to infertility. That’s already a problem for many of us with endometriosis. I say you’re better off safe than sorry. While I get wanting to do things the “natural way,” yeast infections are one instance where you should definitely suck it up and buy the Monistat.
  • Stop using tampons. There is no scientific evidence that I’m aware of to show that tampons cause vaginal infections. That being said, the incidence of my chronic vaginal infections (both bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections) decreased dramatically when I stopped using them. I’m convinced that if someone were to fund a study into it, they would hear many women say the same thing. And it makes sense: tampons sit in your vagina for hours, harboring bacteria. Many conventional tampons contain chemicals that can affect your vagina’s pH, allowing bad bacteria to grow rampant. I switched to organic cotton pads with no bleach and no chlorine, and have experienced dramatic improvement in my chronic vaginal infections since. If you must use tampons, however (for example, to swim or exercise), I suggest switching to organic, cotton-only tampons with no chemicals — and changing them frequently (as in, more frequently than you think you need to!) to promote good hygiene.
  • Avoid fragrances, synthetic materials and other irritants. If you have endometriosis, you are likely more prone to allergic reactions and sensitivities than the average person — meaning you may experience yeast infection-like symptoms (read: itching and/or burning) if exposed to an irritant “down there.” Minimizing your exposure to potential irritants will make you more comfortable in the long run and prevent you from unnecessarily treating something you may think is a yeast infection, when it’s really an allergic reaction. Potential irritants include period products, vaginal hygiene products (like scented soaps or sprays) and synthetic panties. Try switching to organic, all-cotton pads, using only unscented soap on your vagina (not to mention, avoiding douching) and only wearing panties with an inner patch made of 100-percent cotton. Remember: your vagina is a self-cleaning oven and its pH is very easily thrown off by the products you use on it! Stick to the bare minimum and I promise you will see a major difference.
  • Consider supplementing your diet. Most at-home yeast infection remedies are, in my opinion, bullsh*t. However, there are a few which have a lot of anecdotal evidence behind them (and they aren’t the garlic-up-the-vagina theory) and have been effective for me. One is increasing the number of probiotic foods in your diet, such as yogurt and fermented foods (kimchi, sauerkraut, kombucha). You can also take a probiotic supplement containing lactobacillus, one of the most important “good bacteria” that lives in your vagina, for extra support. Another supplement I’ve had a positive experience with is the Perfect Condition Vitamin from Love Wellness. It contains grapefruit seed extract, which supports a healthy balance of yeast in the vaginal flora, as well as anti-inflammatory ingredients like turmeric that are overall positive for endometriosis sufferers!

Health Update: Must-Haves for Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy at Home

Back when my doctors thought I had IBS, I used to dread writing health updates. Something always felt “off” about my diagnosis, and writing these updates only drew attention to that fact. But now that I’ve been diagnosed with suspected endometriosis, I love writing these! Not to mention, I’ve learned so much in the past few weeks about my body that I can’t wait to share with you all.

One of the most insightful parts of my recovery from suspected endo has been pelvic floor physical therapy. If your initial reaction was “uh, what?” then you aren’t alone — that’s how I felt the first time I heard it, too! As someone who’s dealt with a sexual assault, the idea of being alone in a room with a pelvic floor physical therapist (even a woman) felt daunting. But as it turns out, pelvic floor physical therapy can be a powerful tool to help you feel better with endo.

Pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD) is a common contributor to endometriosis pain. Often, the pain function as a cycle: endo pain causes PFD and PFD creates more pain. As a result, interrupting this cycle with pelvic floor physical therapy exercises can make a big difference in the way you feel and how well you are able to function despite endometriosis pain.

Granted, I’m aware that not everyone has access to a pelvic floor physical therapist — especially right now. These types of physical therapists are incredibly specialized and may not be available in all areas of the world. Not to mention, I haven’t seen mine in weeks due to COVID-19!

That’s one of the reasons why I’m sharing with you my home PT routine for lengthening and relaxing the pelvic floor. Here are my must-haves for pelvic floor physical therapy at home — and what I do to take care of my pelvic floor at home.

Pelvic Floor Physical Therapy Essentials

Heal Pelvic Pain, the seminal work by Amy Stein DPT, is the classic book for dealing with pelvic pain. This book is your how-to guide for taking care of your pelvic floor at home. It comes with exercises you can perform, with guidance on how long and how often to perform them, as well as practical advice for helping your pelvic floor feel better.

Soul Source Silicone Dilators are my go-to tool for internal self-massage. (You can check out a handy guide to performing trigger point release on the pelvic floor at home by clicking here — I recommend ONLY trying the intra-vaginal exercises!) These dilators aren’t made of hard plastic like most, so they feel more comfortable for trigger point release. Plus, you can purchase a variety of diameters, so you can choose whichever feels best for your unique body.

Sustain Natural Latex Condoms aren’t necessary, but I prefer to use condoms with my dilator because it feels cleaner. We have dog hair all over our house — I don’t know about you, but that’s NOT something I want to find inside myself, thank you very much! I also use plenty of Good Clean Love Bio Nude Lubricant, which was specially formulated for ultra-sensitive skin like mine. If you have vulvodynia like I do, I highly recommend this natural product!

At-home videos can be helpful for following along with pelvic floor physical therapy exercises, especially if you aren’t sure where to start. I recommend this Pilates for Endometriosis and Fibroids video by Jessica Valent Pilates, or Yoga With Adriene’s Yoga for the Pelvic Floor video.

How to Have a Sex Life with Chronic Pelvic Pain

The first time I had sex, it hurt. And despite what the media tells girls these days, it’s not supposed to! Little did I know that it wouldn’t get easier over time, as the media also told me. The reason why? Pelvic pain caused by my endometriosis.

It’s amazing how quickly my doctor could pinpoint the pain I was feeling during my exam. What’s less amazing is how long it took me to be heard in the medical system. I was still in high school when I first started seeing doctors for the pain I felt during sex. By the time I was in college, I was avoiding sex regularly due to the pain I was in.

I distinctly remember telling myself at one point that I could live without sex — and sure, I could. But that isn’t the point. I shouldn’t have to, and neither should you. That’s why sex is an important quality of life measure when doctors are assessing the extent of chronic pelvic pain: sex matters!

Sex allows us to build and deepen relationships, provides health benefits and relieves stress. Plus, it just feels good — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

As someone living with chronic pelvic pain, I know it can feel like sex is a part of life you’re doomed to miss out on. But despite those feelings, it isn’t. You can and will enjoy sex! You just need to understand where your pain is coming from and how to manage it — not to mention, how to cope with the difficult emotions surrounding your sex life.

Pelvic Pain and Your Emotions

When sex feels painful or even impossible, the emotions that arise can be equally painful. Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you’ll likely feel a sense of loss or frustration, among an amalgam of other complicated feelings surrounding sex. Here are just a few of the ways pelvic pain can impact the emotions that surround our sex lives.

Guilt

Conditions that cause pain during sex — such as endometriosis, pelvic floor dysfunction and vulvodynia (I have all three because I’m #blessed like that) — can also cause lack of interest in sex, difficulty becoming aroused and inability to reach orgasm. If you suffer from one or more of these side effects of pelvic pain, you might feel guilty for the way they affect your sex life.

As someone in a relationship, I know how difficult it is to feel like you’re the one always saying no to your partner’s advances. Or, you might feel bad for “taking too long” in bed or needing more stimulation to remain aroused during sex. You may even feel guilty for caring so much about your sex life in the frst place. Whatever it is, sexual guilt only furthers the problems caused by pelvic pain. In order to reclaim your sex life, you must let go of the guilt, and allow it to give way to pleasure.

Depression

Dealing with pelvic pain sucks, especially when it feels like you just can’t catch a break. Low libido can result directly from pelvic pain, or from the feelings of depression associated with pelvic pain. When our pelvic pain leaves us feeling hopeless and disinterested in our usual activities, of course our sexual desire is going to plummet as well. The subsequent relationship problems caused by constantly avoiding sex then maintain the depression, creating a vicious cycle of loneliness and low self-esteem. In these cases, learning to cope with the limitations of pelvic pain and finding happiness in what you can do may increase your libido and improve your sex life.

Frustration

When you suffer from any chronic condition, at some point you will probably find yourself wishing you could just be “normal” again like everybody else. These feelings can easily give way to frustration and resentment, especially if you fall into the comparison trap. Pick up the latest issue of Cosmopolitan and skim through the pages — I guarantee you’ll feel like everyone is having more orgasms than you, or at the very least having more sex (and enjoying it more, too).

However, it’s important to remember that you are more “normal” than you think, and that these media tropes are merely a mirage! In reality, 75% of women cannot climax from penetrative sex alone, 10-15% never climax at all and 20% experience some type of pain during sex. It’s natural to be frustrated by the pain you face, but don’t forget that you are not alone in your suffering. No one’s sex life is perfect, no matter what they say in public!

Tips for Pain-Free Sex

If you suffer from chronic pelvic pain, you probably think you’ve heard it all: try a different position. Try woman-on-top. Apply heat or cold after sex. Achieve orgasm on your own if you can’t with a partner. But these tips aren’t the end of the line when it comes to enjoying pain-free sex. If they were, most women with chronic pelvic pain would never learn to enjoy sex again!

Sadly, many women do give up and avoid sex altogether — but you don’t have to be one of them. Instead, you can decide to fight your chronic pelvic pain and reclaim control of your sex life. Empower yourself not to give up on sex by trying some of these tips to manage the pain you feel during sex:

  • Reduce external irritation. Amy Stein, author of Heal Pelvic Pain, recommends in her book applying pure Vitamin E oil to the vulva twice per day to reduce any external irritation. It’s also important to wear 100% cotton underwear, to switch to menstrual products free of fragrances or chemicals and to never, ever douche. EVER!
  • Use a quality lubricant. A safe, water-based lubricant is a must-have for any woman experiencing pelvic pain! Stein suggests avoiding lubricants with propylene glycol, an irritating ingredient.
  • Explore your sexuality outside of penetrative sex. If penetrative sex is too painful, Howard I. Glazer and Gae Rodke, authors of The Vulvodynia Survival Guide, recommend trying oral sex, mutual masturbation, sensual massage or even talking dirty to your partner to keep that spark of passion alive.
  • Set the mood. If you are going to have penetrative sex, go into sex as relaxed as possible. Light candles, put on sexy lingerie, use an aromatherapy massage oil…. Whatever you can do to reduce stress and promote relaxation prior to sex will help loosen your muscles, preventing the worst of your pelvic pain.
  • Bring props into the bedroom. I’ve previously written about the Ohnut, a flexible disk worn at the base of the penis to help partners explore comfortable penetration depths during sex. You can get $7 off your Ohnut purchase by using my promo code LOVELYLAZY7 — click here to check it out! If you (like most women) can’t orgasm from penetrative sex alone, you may also consider bringing a vibrator into the bedroom.

Want to join my FREE 7-Day Getting Endostrong e-course? Click here!