Is it safe to masturbate with thrush?

Woman sitting nude on the bed

It creeps up on you when you least expect it, and before you know it, what was just a niggling itch becomes an intense one. The opening of your vagina starts to feel sore and you might start passing cottage cheese-looking discharge.

Most women will have vaginal thrush at least once in their lifetime. Some women suffer with it chronically, experiencing more than four episodes in a year, or have what is known as ‘complicated thrush’ — which is defined as a persistent infection that doesn’t clear up with the standard treatment, or as thrush caused by an uncommon strain of yeast.1

Thrush may be uncomfortable, but doesn’t necessarily make your sex drive disappear. It’s perfectly normal to still want to have sex — including with yourself.

But, is it safe to do so?

Don’t work against your treatment

General practitioner Dr Diana Gall advises sticking to purely clitoral masturbation if you’re worried about disrupting intra-vaginal treatment, as vaginal penetration with toys or fingers could disrupt fungal treatment that has been inserted into the vagina.

“Oral capsules won’t be affected by masturbating, as they work within your body to fight the infection,” she says. “However, pessaries may be. If you’re worried about intra-vaginal treatment being affected by masturbation, you can avoid penetration by focusing on the clitoris, or just wait until the infection has cleared.”

However, GP Dr Tom Micklewright adds, pessaries normally dissolve overnight so should be unaffected.

“Masturbating shouldn’t reduce the effectiveness of any thrush treatment,” he says. “Some women using a pessary to treat their thrush may be worried about what happens to this, but a pessary will usually dissolve overnight in the moisture of the vagina, so this shouldn’t be something to worry about.

“But there is a possibility of reinfection if you are using penetrative toys while undergoing thrush treatment.”

Preventing reinfection or new infection

Introducing fingers, toys or objects into your vaginal canal while a thrush infection is still present — even if you are treating it — could prolong or even worsen the current infection, or reintroduce a new one. For this reason, Dr Mickleright says that “most doctors wouldn’t recommend it until that infection has cleared up”.

Sexual intercourse can be a trigger for vaginal thrush, especially when there is vaginal dryness or tightness. Some studies have suggested that this may be due to small cuts being made on the vulva and vagina, creating conditions suitable for the yeast to invade the tissue.2 It has also been suggested that exposure to semen, which has a high pH (alkaline), can alter the balance within the vagina and so introduce bacteria into the environment.3

Vaginal thrush is caused by a fungal overgrowth, usually of yeasts within a family called candida. The yeast penetrates the lining of the vagina and causes inflammation, which may bring on itching discharge, swelling, or other uncomfortable symptoms.4 Women get thrush when their vaginal environment enables this overgrowth.

If engaging in anal penetration with toys, make sure not to insert the same toys into your vagina without thoroughly washing them first: bacteria from the anal passage can spark or worsen thrush if transmitted to the vagina

Dr Mickleright says it’s likely that penetrative masturbation can also carry this risk, as well as potentially worsening an infection or carrying the risk of re-infection.

“Thrush can make masturbation painful and there is the possibility that penetrative masturbation may cause the infection to last longer or to worsen,” he says. “Clitoral masturbation is likely to be safer and more comfortable, although this could also feel tender.”

But Dr Gall stresses that reinfection or worsening of a thrush infection is unlikely with the right precautions. She explains that masturbation while you have thrush is “fairly safe”, provided you practice good hygiene, which includes thoroughly washing your hands before and after, along with any toys you have used.

If engaging in anal penetration with toys, make sure not to insert the same toys into your vagina without thoroughly washing them first: bacteria from the anal passage can spark or worsen thrush if transmitted to the vagina.5

Though it’s rare, It’s also possible for vaginal thrush to be transmitted to the anal area — if your anal area becomes persistently and intensely itchy, you could be experiencing anal thrush, too. Using seperate toys for both these areas might help you to prevent cross contamination.

Dr Gall suggests using a condom to cut the risk of reintroducing thrush or worsening existing thrush while penetrating the vagina with toys

As long as your toys are safe for being inserted into the vagina, Dr Gall says “they shouldn’t pose any more of a threat than your hands”. Be sure to check the cleaning instructions on each of your sex toys, because different toys may require different methods.

Dr Gall suggests using a condom to cut the risk of reintroducing thrush or worsening existing thrush while penetrating the vagina with toys. She also advises taking a second look at the label of your lubricant products to make sure they don’t contain any irritants or perfumes “that can sometimes make thrush worse”.

Glycerin, a common ingredient in many vaginal lubricant products, can act as food for yeast, which could worsen a current infection or cause the start of a new one. It also draws water away from the mucous membranes of your vaginal walls, causing vaginal dryness. This can also make thrush more likely.

Avoiding lubricants that contain yeast-friendly ingredients or irritants is especially important if you’re in the throes of a thrush infection or have just recovered from one. Consider switching to lubricants that have a pH level of 3.5 to four and avoid using glycerin ingredients at all.

Reducing discomfort

Thrush is described by being irritatingly itchy, sometimes debilitatingly so. But soreness or sensitivity of the vulva, particularly around the vaginal opening, is also a telltale sign of a yeast infection. Thrush can either accompany the first signs of itching, or develop later once the infection has progressed.

These particular symptoms can make masturbation uncomfortable or less enjoyable. This can reduce sexual desire for some women or mean that they are less sexually sensitive to touch in the vulva area while an infection is present.

Both Dr Gall and Dr Micklewright suggest clitoral instead of penetrative masturbation if you’re worried about tenderness and soreness.

“Some women find that they aren’t as sensitive to touch with a yeast infection, while others find it more painful or unbearably itchy”

“Thrush is notorious for being itchy and uncomfortable, so masturbating whilst you have the
infection might be uncomfortable,” says Dr Gall. “Some women find that they aren’t as sensitive to touch with a yeast infection, while others find it more painful or unbearably itchy.

“If you feel pain or discomfort without masturbating, it might be best to wait until you feel better or until the infection has gone.”

Masturbating with thrush can still be pleasurable, even though it may be uncomfortable, and is nothing to be ashamed of if it’s something you want and feels good — as long as you make sure you proceed safely.

The featured image shows a female’s body in a suggestive position and muted tones to indicate self pleasure, and possible apprehension or hesitation 

References

  1. NICE, ‘Candida – female genital’, Clinical Knowledge Summary, National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, May 2017, [online], https://cks.nice.org.uk/candida-female-genital#!backgroundSub (accessed 15 July 2019)
  2. Gonçalves, B., et al., Vulvovaginal candidiasis: epidemiology, microbiology and risk factors, Critical reviews in microbiology, 2016, vol 42, issue 6, pp 905-927
  3. ibid
  4. Jeanmonod R, Jeanmonod D. Vaginal Candidiasis (Vulvovaginal Candidiasis) [Updated 2019 Feb 24]. StatPearls Publishing, Jan 2019, [online], https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459317/ (accessed 22 July 2019)
  5. Fong IW. The rectal carriage of yeast in patients with vaginal candidiasis. Clin Invest Med. 1994 Oct, vol 17, no. 5, pp 426-31.

Rachel Mantock

Deputy Editor, The Femedic

A feature writer who started out in lifestyle and wellness, Rachel joined The Femedic after becoming frustrated with the way women’s bodies and intimate health were being reported on. She wanted to talk about the good, the bad, the ‘ugly’ and the ‘really ugly’, with no topic too taboo to investigate. From conversations with the women she meets everyday to speaking with doctors, she’s constantly surprised by the amount of misinformation and lack of research around women’s health issues. She’s determined to raise awareness of the female health issues that are prominent in minority groups and to get more women talking shamelessly about their bodies and experiences.

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