Thrush is one of those things most people with a vagina will get at some point in their lives. Some people are more prone to it than others, it just depends how sensitive your vag is. Thrush has a wide range of triggers, everything from antibiotics to pregnancy to just using too much soap. Despite its very common occurrence, it’s something people don’t talk about much. It’s embarrassing and kind of gross.
I decided to write this blog post because I used to suffer from thrush all the god damn time. It was itchy and painful and left my vulva really sore. The skin got so irritated it would sometimes crack and bleed. I’m painting a pretty disgusting image of my genitals for you right now. It’s not like I just ignored it either. I went to the doctors multiple times with vaginal complaints. The doctor ended up prescribing me months and months worth of fluconazole tablets (antifungal thrush treatment). That was pretty much it. The tablets didn’t really help much and they didn’t prevent the problem from reoccurring. The problem was the doctor just saw a symptom and then prescribed the easiest treatment. They didn’t give me any advice on how to change up my lifestyle to prevent thrush from happening again.
The problem is, if your doctor does nothing but prescribe pills, and you are too embarrassed about thrush to ask the people around you if they have and good advice, you’ll never know how to prevent it from reoccurring. I’m happy to report that through my own research and life experience I went from someone who had thrush almost constantly to never having thrush or vaginal discomfort of any kind in the past 8 years or so. Now I want to share this advice so that if someone is madly googling trying to find out sensible ways to prevent thrush they might stumble upon this blog and think “yes! Thank God! Someone else has had what I’m going through and they got over it!”
I was a teenager when I first got thrush. I had not yet had sex. I was so embarrassed about it I just didn’t tell anyone. When I couldn’t cope anymore I called up the doctor myself and arranged my own appointment for the first time. If there are other young people out there who are going through the same thing I went through, I’d like them to be able to read this and get better quicker. There’s a lot of bullshit holistic advice out there. Shit like that will have you putting cream cheese on your junk and praying no one can smell it (teenage me actually did that, thanks nonsense advice giver!). The advice I have is practical, sensible and easy to do. You may not like the sound of some of it (particularly if it disagrees with your fashion sense or body hair preferences), but I encourage you to try it anyway and just see if it helps you.
This advice is also for people who have a generally irritated vagina without having thrush. Remember that doctor who prescribed me months worth of thrush pills? Well, I actually went to see a different doctor when it turned out the pills weren’t working. She said I didn’t even have thrush at that moment in time (the pills prevented that), but I had really irritated vulva skin. She prescribed a steriod anti fungal cream instead and told me wash with aqueous cream that sorted me right out. My point is that you should always go ask for a second opinion if the treatment you’re given isn’t working, and that you can have an uncomfortable, irritated vulva without having thrush or an STD.
So here we go, six ways to prevent thrush and vaginal irritation:
1. Change How you Wash
This is, by far, the most important piece of advice I can give any chronic thrush sufferer. I know too well when your vulva is all itchy and sore and leaking thick discharge all you want to do is scrub those flaps clean with the strongest sweetest smelling soap you have. But don’t. Just don’t do that. Did you know that one of the leading causes of thrush is too much soap? Yep, vaginas don’t like being cleaned! I’m not saying you shouldn’t wash, you just need to change what you wash with.
If you have any strongly scented soaps, shower gels, shampoos etc. make sure they get no where near your undercarriage. You can still use them on the other parts of you (if you must, although it is better in general to switch to something PH neutral), but be careful the soapy water doesn’t drip down there. The reason strong soaps are such a problem is that thrush thrives when the natural PH balance of your vagina is out of whack. Soaps are an alkali, that’s how they work. Vaginas are naturally slightly acidic, so when you present them with a strong alkaline such as soap it changes the vaginal PH, making thrush more likely. So when you have a bubble bath you’re basically soaking your vag in alkali water. Bubble baths are a terrible idea.
However, there are plenty of soap free products you can use to wash with. A lot of companies have designed vulva specific PH neutral wash products. I’m actually not going to recommend them, because they can be expensive and also sometimes focus on deodorising, which isn’t necessary. I suggest using aqueous cream. It is cheap (you can get a massive tub from your local pharmacy for two or three pounds and it will last you ages), completely body safe, it gets you completely clean and moisturised and it is recommended by doctors. It has very few ingredients so most people will not be allergic to it. Aqueous cream is often sold as a treatment for dry skin problems, and it looks more like a moisturiser than a body wash. But you can apply it to your sensitive areas then wash it off completely and it will leave you feeling clean and fresh. Best of all it won’t dry out your skin, it’s soothing and it won’t encourage thrush or other bacterial infections.
I think switching to aqueous cream has been the single most important factor in preventing thrush. If I go away and forget to take it with me my vagina starts to protest after a few washes without it. That’s how important it is.
Other washing tips I have include washing your hair with it all brushed forward. Lean your head away from your body and let the shampoo suds wash off it straight downwards instead of letting them run down your body where they could go over your vulva. If you only have a bath and not a shower, only use the aqueous cream or PH neutral body wash when your vagina is submerged in the water. You can wash your hair by kneeling outside of the bath and leaning over it, and wash your legs, arms & torso by sitting next to the bath rather than in it.
Finally, don’t douche. Don’t ever douche. If you own a douche-bag, throw it away. Your vagina keeps itself clean, all douching does is fuck up the natural PH balance that your vag then has to fight to get back to normal again. Douche-bags need to be burnt.
2. Change what you wear
If you’re in to a certain look this one may be difficult for you. I grew up when the super tight drain pipe style skinny jeans were in fashion. So naturally I bought some and wore them all the time. Big error. Clothing that is tight fitting and doesn’t breath well around your crotch is asking for trouble. Anything that could potentially make your crotch sweaty is going to cause problems for your vagina. Synthetic materials are also a big problem, because they often don’t breath much.
The easiest change you can make to your wardrobe is to exclusively wear only cotton underwear. Cotton breathes and is nice on your sensitive vulva skin. If you have a bunch of sexy underwear that are made of polyester or another synthetic material, you don’t need to throw them out. Just try not to wear them for more than an hour or so (put them on just before expected sexy times). You can find sexier cotton panties too, they don’t have to be boring or plain at all. When you’re shopping for new underwear read the labels and pick up ones that are mostly cotton. Then when you wash them make sure you only use sensitive skin, mild laundry detergent. There’s no point being careful how you wash if your going to stick a alkaline-rich, scented gusset on your vulva.
Everyone is different, but as a basic rule, if it is tight on your crotch or synthetic and doesn’t breath, avoid it for everyday wear. Here’s a list of clothing I know I can’t wear often…:
- Synthetic underwear
- Tights / Pantyhoes
- Tight fitting jeans
- Synthetic Sports leggings or shorts
…and here’s a few things I can wear that keep my vag happy:
- Cotton underwear
- Loose fitting cotton or linen trousers
- Loose cotton shorts
- Leggings that are mainly cotton (I wear as an alternative to tights / pantyhoes)
3. Change your Period Habits
Period blood is very slightly alkaline (it has a PH of 7.4 compared to the natural vaginal PH of between 3.8 and 4.5) so it can fuck up your natural PH. That’s not too clever of a body design, but whatevs, if you menstruate it’s the lot you’re stuck with. Although you shouldn’t try to stop your period, you can limit the amount of time period blood is in contact with your vagina.
If you use tampons, seriously consider stopping. Tampons are the worst because they dry out the vagina, removing it’s good bacteria (the stuff that fights the bad bacteria to keep your vag happy and balanced) and harbouring the bad bacteria so it can breed and become more of a problem. They also keep all that alkaline period blood in contact with your vaginal walls, which makes the natural PH balance get out of whack. Tampons are also expensive in the long run and don’t biodegrade so are bad for the environment.
If you really must use tampons because you can’t even bare to think of using different options, you can reduce the negative impact they have on your vagina by changing them frequently. I’m talking every hour or so. And take tampon breaks. If you’re at home, particularly over night consider not using them at all and using pads instead.
If you do use sanitary pads, these are better for you than tampons. They don’t absorb the moisture that is inside the vagina so it can keep healthier. However, sitting in period blood is also likely to fuck up your vaginal PH balance and increase bateria. To reduce this as much as possible change your pads as frequently as you can, even if your flow is low. Pads also have the same environmental and financial issues as tampons. However, you can get eco friendly washable sanitary pads now if you’re concerned about the environment.
What I suggest to any menstruator who’ll listen to me, is switching to menstrual cups. These are made of medical grade silicone, which means bacteria can not grow and live on them. They also can be fully sterilized between uses. They collect the period blood so it is not in contact with the walls of the vagina, if you clean it fairly regularly. They do not absorb the natural lubricant that is on the vaginal walls. This natural lubricant is vitally important in keeping your PH normal and bad bacteria at bay. They are reusable, so although they cost initially a lot more than a box of tampons, you will save a lot of money in the long run. For example, I bought one mooncup for £20 back in 2011. I still use it every time I menstruate as my entire sanitary protection. That means £20 has covered all my costs of having a period for the past six years. And my mooncup shows no signs of wearing out.
There are several menstrual cups out there now that you can try. They take a little getting used to, I would use one for a minimum of two periods, and if you still hate it try switching to a different brand before you write them off completely. I think my vagina has had far fewer issues since I stopped using tampons, and I strongly encourage everyone to give a cup a try.
4. Leave your Pubes alone
This one is really important, but I also understand it is psychologically difficult for a lot of people, especially those who identify as women. I know we have all been conditioned now to believe that the only sexually attractive vulva is a hair-free smooth vulva. Or a vulva with a minimal hair landing strip. If a porn performer has enough pubic hair to cover her vulva it is categorized as for people with a hairy fetish. That is insane. I’m holding myself back from going on a full blown rant about pubic hair here. I know a lot of women feel really defensive about their personal choice to remove most of their pubes completely. However, if you’ve got a problem with regular thrush or vaginal irritation, I want you to seriously consider leaving your pubes alone.
Although some people have gotten the insane idea that removing pubic hair is somehow more hygienic, actually the complete opposite is true. Pubic hair acts as the vagina’s natural defence from hostile bacteria entering it and breeding. It traps it and when you wash you’ll wash it away. If you have no hair at all on your vulva, there is no defense, and bacteria will be more like to enter your vagina and thrive there.
Hair removal methods themselves can also irritate the sensitive skin of the vulva and make bacteria more likely. Hair removal creams are the worst because they are full of nasty chemicals (if a chemical can literally eat the hair off your body you probably shouldn’t put it anywhere near your vagina!), which upset your PH balence, irritate your skin, and take away the vagina’s natural defence (your pubes). Shaving is a particular problem because razors are rarely sterile and they can cause lots of little cuts, so small you can’t see them. These cuts increase your chances of contracting STDs from your sexual partners. Razors introduce bacteria and then irritate your skin so that any problems you might incur will hurt even more. Waxing too can cause bleeding and the removal of whole layers of skin. I say this from very personal and painful experience.
Basically most, if not all, methods of full pubic hair removal will introduce bacteria to your vulva, damage your sensitive skin, and most importantly remove your vagina’s natural defence system against hostile bacteria. Your body set up this great way to stop your vag from getting nasty and then you go and destroy it.
Since I stopped waxing and shaving down there my vulva skin and vagina have been much happier. I used to shave regularly to remove all the hair below my pubic mound. What this lead to was skin irritation so bad that sometimes the skin would bleed after sex. Now I just use an electric trimmer with a guard on it to keep the hair neat and trimmed, but still fully functional. I know a lot of people aren’t okay with their own body hair, but I promise you your vagina will be a lot happier and healthier if you learn to leave it alone.
5. Only use non porous Sex Toys
This one is a quick and easy change everyone can make. If you happen to own sex toys made of rubber jelly type material or TPE, they are likely to be porous. This means that there are tiny holes in the material that bacteria can live in, no matter how well you wash it. Obviously, putting a bacteria ridden sex toy on your genitals is likely to introduce said nasty bacteria to your vagina where it could breed and cause problems. If you have any toys made from this material, my advice is to throw them away or return them for a refund if your retailer allows that. Here is a list of common non-porous skin safe sex toy materials which you can confidently buy and use:
Other common sense advice I have regarding sex toys is go for waterproof ones where possible so you can clean them thoroughly. Clean each toy before and after each use. Make sure you wash off all soap residue from the toys before you use them, as you don’t want to introduce soap to your vagina either. Never use a toy anally and then vaginally without washing it first.
6. Watch out for Lubes and Semen!
Semen is also slightly alkaline, with a PH of around 8. Just like period blood and soap, it can fuck up the natural PH balance of your vagina. Unless you are trying to get pregnant (in which case the you’ll have to put up with the semen), try to avoid getting a load of spunk up your vagina. Either use condoms (which are great for all kinds of reasons including reducing your STD risk), or kindly ask your penis owning partner to blow their load elsewhere. I hear tits are a common choice. As with most things, having semen in you now and again is unlikely to mess up your vag too much. But if it is a regular occurrence it can start to cause you real problems as your vagina will constantly be battling to regain its natural PH level.
Some lubricants can also cause problems. Ingredients in lubes to avoid include:
- Glycerin / Glucouse
- Propylene glycol
- Silicone oils (silicone based lubes)
- Oil based lubes
- Petroleum or petroleum-derived ingredients (e.g. vasaline. Never use vasaline!)
Not all lubricants will be bad for all people. I tend to go for water based lubes as they are better for vaginas and can be washed off thoroughly. However, if you don’t have any problems with a lubricant by all means keep using it. Just be on the look out for problems, and if you get any vaginal upset at all after trying a new lube then consider changing it.
I used to get thrush all the time. I was embarrassed to talk about it. I thought my body was some revolting thing to be hidden and ashamed of. All the doctor did was prescribe me a pill to take all the time. Turns out that was not a long term solution. But I learnt to fix myself. First I stopped washing with soap, and made sure only aqueous cream came in contact with my genitals. Then I ditched all my tight fitting synthetic materials and started wearing skirts and cotton underwear all the time. Next I got a mooncup and said goodbye to tampons forever. Then I stopped trying to remove my pubes. Finally, I got smart about sex toys and lubes, only using non porous body safe toys and avoiding nasty lubricants. Now I never have thrush. My vulva never itches. It’s the happiest, cleanest god damn vagina in the world.
What saddens me a little about all of this, is that really my problem with recurring thrush was largely due to being an insecure young woman. I washed myself with highly scented soap products all the time because I was paranoid my teenaged body smelt bad. I wore tight clothing and sexy synthetic underwear because I wanted to look good and be desireable. I shaved my pubic hair for the same reason: I wanted to be sexaully attractive to other people. I wanted them to think my vulva was the most sexually attractive thing in the world. I believed, unconsciously, that ultimately my value was based upon how much other people wanted to have sex with me. I used tampons because I’d been taught periods are unclean and something to be embarrassed about and that you should have as little contact with your own period blood as possible. Cleaning out a mooncup would have been unthinkable to 16 year old me.
All of this was me striving to be “normal”. And it damaged my health. Not feeling able to talk about it made the problem go on a lot longer than it should have. It gave me physical pain and discomfort as well as knocking my self esteem. That’s why I wanted to write this post. To let other people know if you are prone to thrush or other forms of vaginal irritation, there are simple things you can do to prevent it. It’s the advice I wish I’d had earlier, and the advice I might have gotten if I had been confident enough to ask the women around me.
* In this article I am offering advice on changes to your lifestyle that you can make to stop thrush and other vaginal irritations from reoccurring. I’m not offering advice on how to treat thrush or other vaginal problems. If you have any issues with your vagina or sexual health at all I highly recommend you visit your doctor or local sexual health clinic. Follow their treatment advice and make sure they swab you and test you to be certain what the problem is.