Everything you need to know about yeast infections, UTIs, and bacterial vaginosis
By Gabrielle Kassel, Contributing writer
PSA: Sexually transmitted infections are not the only infections that can make home in or on your genital area. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary tract infections are all totally curable infections that can people can get, even if they’ve never ever had sex. Really!
Important things to consider about genital infections
Read on to learn more about the three types of infections — including intel on how they differ from sexually transmitted infections also found in genital areas.
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection takes place when bacteria (usually E. coli) gets lodged in the urethra, occasionally traveling up the urinary tract to the bladder and/or kidneys.
What causes UTIs, exactly? Anytime outsider bacteria gets introduced to the urethra, there’s risk for infection. This could happen in a number of ways, including through sex. A UTI could also be caused from bacteria from the anus being brought forward towards the urethra, for example while wiping or during sex.
While people of all genitals can get UTIs, urinary tract infections are far more common in those with vaginas than penises because the urethra is so much shorter. This means that the distance the bacteria has to travel in order to get to the bladder is shorter, increasing the odds that the infectious agent makes it to the infection-site.
Common symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
- Urine that is cloudy or pink in color
- Lower abdominal or pelvic pain or cramping
- Rectal pain
A UTI can be diagnosed with a quick urine sample — for more information on how to properly collect a urine same, head here. If tested-positive, your healthcare provider will prescribe a round of antibiotics which will begin to clear the infection up in as little as 24 to 72 hours. The type of antibiotics will vary based on the type of bacteria found in the sample, as well as the location (urethra, bladder, or kidneys) of the infection.
What is a yeast infection?
Also known as candidiasis, a yeast infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of the fungi “candida” in the body.
Anybody can get a yeast infection. But those with vaginas are far (far!) more likely to be infected — nearly 75% will have a yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. Less than 1% of those with pensises will get a yeast infection in their lifetime.
The health of the internal canal of the vagina is regulated by something called the vaginal microbiome which is made up of millions of bacteria, yeast, and fungi that work the vagina’s bodyguard and janitorial staff, keeping the it clean while also warding off infectious pathogens.
When the vaginal microbiome becomes disrupted — which can occur from a variety of things including antibiotic use, pregnancy, uncontrolled diabetes, sitting in wet or sweaty clothes, oral contraceptives, interaction with another person’s natural genital bacteria, or use fragrant body washes — the owner becomes susceptible to a yeast infection.
Common symptoms include:
- Cottage-cheese-textured discharge
- Itching and irritation on the vulva, penis, or taint, or inside vaginal canal
- Pain or burning while urinating or during sex
- Redness, swelling, or irritation
Yeast infections can be diagnosed with a pelvic exam or lab test. Usually, they can be cured with a one to seven day regimen of anti-fungal topical or oral medication. However, if left untreated long enough the infection can travel elsewhere in the body and require a more rigorous course of treatment to be eliminated.
What is bacterial vaginosis?
Bacterial vaginosis names the condition in which there is an overgrowth of certain bacteria in the vaginal microbiome. As the name suggests, BV is a condition that only affects those with vaginas.
Similar to yeast infections, anything that upsets the vaginal microbiome can result in BV. However, things like douching, having sex with someone new, using fragrant washes and detergents, and smoking can all increase the risk.
Common symptoms include:
- Fishy or foul smelling odor
- Thin or loose discharge
- Vaginal or vulvar itching
- Burning while peeing
Bacterial vaginosis can be diagnosed through a pelvic exam, vaginal secretion or vaginal pH test. To treat bacterial vaginosis, your healthcare provider may prescribe an oral or intravaginal cream that should clear up the infection within a few days.
How are these infections different from STIs?
The main difference is how the infections are classified. Yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and UTIs are not classified as STIs.
While sex can increase risk of yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, and UTIs, they are not considered sexually transmitted infections because they are not infections transmitted from one person to another. All sexually transmitted infections are strictly transmitted from an STI-positive person, to someone who is not positive for that STI through direct skin-to-skin contact or through exchange of bodily fluid exchange.
Another difference is that all of the infections mentioned here are totally curable with adequate treatment. While some STIs are curable (gonorrhea, syphilis, chlamydia, trichomoniasis, and pubic lice), there are also some viral STIs that can be treated, but cannot be cured.
However, all genitals infections can be asymptomatic. Or, result in similar symptoms like itching, burning, or pain during sex or while urinating.
So…how do you know which of the genital infections you have?
Talk to your provider about your concerns and which genital (or other) infections you are worried about. Together you can come up with a plan for testing and treatment to get you feeling better as soon as possible.
Reviewed by the Ovia Health Clinical Team
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. October 14, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/urinary-tract-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20353447
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Yeast infection (vaginal).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. March 17, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/yeast-infection/symptoms-causes/syc-20378999