The first time I realized I had Bacterial Vaginosis was while having sex with my boyfriend. I got a waft from between my legs and immediately knew what was going on. Let me tell you, when Rihanna said “sex in the air, I don’t care, I love the smell of it” she was not talking about BV. I was mortified because there’s nothing quite like a vaginal infection to kill the mood, but that would hardly be the last time BV would be a cockblock. 

A symptom of living with vaginal infections that no one talks about is how it can put a massive burden on your relationship. For one, it makes you feel too self-conscious to engage in sexual activities, sometimes withdrawing from sex altogether  Toxic cultural messages tell us that vaginas are dirty and something to be ashamed of. Having a vaginal infection doesn’t make you unsanitary or gross, but it’s totally understandable if you’re worried your partner might think otherwise

Moreover, vaginal infections aren’t just uncomfortable to deal with, they can be equally uncomfortable to talk about with a sexual or romantic partner. If your significant other also has a vagina, they’ll know exactly what you’re going through. But if you’re in a relationship with someone with a penis, chances are they have no idea what it’s like to have a recurrent yeast infection or BV.  

Most of us aren’t taught how to openly discuss sexual health with partners, but it’s pretty much a non-negotiable aspect of being in a safe, loving, and fun relationship. If you don’t know how to talk to your partner about vaginal infections, we get it. It can be a little awkward and nerve-wracking, but talking frankly about sexual and vaginal health can build intimacy and trust. 

So here are some tips on how to better communicate with your partner about recurrent vaginal infections. 

See it as a bonding experience (no, really!)

Entrusting someone with such personal information is real intimacy. Rather than seeing it as a massive damper to your sex life, consider how it is an opportunity to grow closer and be more vulnerable with one another. This can open up the conversation around boundaries, safe sex, and pleasure. Think of vaginal discharge as the glue that holds your relationship together (or at the very least, sets the foundation for you openly and confidently embracing your body just as it is).

Don’t skirt the issue 

It’s pretty hard to hide a vaginal infection, whether you’re dating someone new or you’re in a long-term relationship. Maybe you can’t have sex because of a flare-up, or you’re in obvious discomfort, or can’t get a drink because you’re taking antibiotics… the issue will come up inevitably.  

Rather than hiding your symptoms and coming up with another excuse why you’re not in the mood — or just not feeling well — take this as a chance to be upfront and just say “hey, I have a yeast infection/BV/UTI”. 

If you feel comfortable — as you should! — don’t gloss over the details. Chances are your partner will be way more understanding if they know just how uncomfortable and frustrating vaginal infections are. Also, by swallowing this toxic cultural norm and being open/honest, you are contributing to smashing these ridiculous taboos. Consider it to be a good deed in the name of sex positivity! 

Avoid pointing fingers

Explain to your partner that sex is a trigger for vaginal infections, especially if you’re already prone to them. But having a vaginal infection is no one’s fault: it’s just the nature of being sexually active when you have a vagina, and keeping everyone involved healthy is a team effort. 

A good partner understands that safety during sex is a shared responsibility (bonus points if they will also pick up your treatment from the pharmacy for you).  

Look at it as a teaching opportunity

After broaching the subject, ask your partner if they have any questions. Doing this opens up the dialogue and creates a safe space for them to learn without judgement. Most of us were taught woefully inadequate sex ed, so even the most clued-in cis men might not know the ins and outs (no pun intended) of the female body. 

Although the burden of educating men shouldn’t fall on us, having these types of conversations with your partner can help them unlearn any misconceptions they might have about the female reproductive system — which, let’s be honest, will benefit both of you in the long run. 

Find new ways to be intimate 

Sex also isn’t the be-all and end-all in a relationship, and there are plenty of ways you can be intimate with your SO. This is a great opportunity to talk about boundaries and turn-ons with your partner, as well as to spend time being close, cuddling, or doing something fun but non-sexual. 

It’s a chance to reaffirm your boundaries

If you’re worried about how vaginal infections will interfere with your sex life, remember that you don’t owe anyone sex. Ever. A supportive partner will respect your body and understand that sometimes sex will simply be off the table. After all, no one wants to have sex if it’s not fun for everyone involved, so your partner should never ask you to compromise your comfort for their orgasms. 

On the off chance that they react poorly or get frustrated at you for not wanting to have sex, know that an infection is nothing to feel guilty for. You and your vagina deserve care and empathy from your partner.

The bottom line

Yes, talking to your partner about vaginal infections for the first time can be awkward, but it’s also pretty much inevitable. Remember, you have a right to feel comfortable talking about every aspect of sexual health with whoever you’re dating — whether it’s a new hookup or a live-in partner.

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