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Isabel shares her experience of having thrush from the age of 13 and why we need to speak more openly about it.
I think I
was probably about 13/14 when I first started to get thrush. I had no idea what
it was and I remember feeling quite embarrassed about having problems down
there so I just sort of just had to grin and bear it, as I didn’t really
want to ask anyone for help. I felt as though I couldn’t talk about it or ask
questions to others because it seemed kind of gross having something wrong with
your vagina. On top of the embarrassment, I felt rather frustrated because of
the physical itching and soreness too.
I can’t remember actually being taught by someone else about thrush at any point in my life.
I’m pretty sure I had it a few times and didn’t really know what it was, until I eventually took to Google and worked out I’d had thrush by typing in my symptoms. Then by the time I got a bit older and it felt like I was at the age where it was more normal/less embarrassing, conversations with friends and my mum sort of confirmed my suspicions that it was definitely thrush that I’d been having.
I honestly couldn’t count the amount of times I’ve had it. About once a month, or every two months, between the ages of 14 to 20…so a lot! Having it so often was an absolute nightmare, so over the years I tried doing lots of different things to combat it: shaving less frequently, not using bubble bath, using only soaps that (I believed) were made for your vagina, not wearing knickers which moved around and made things itch more (or where the gusset was made from synthetic material). All of these things helped, however I still managed to get it more often than I would’ve liked. If the itching and soreness wasn’t enough (and sometimes if I stupidly gave it a scratch, it’d make it 10x worse).
It also made me feel guilty every time I got it, as it felt as though I wasn’t really taking proper care of my body.
As you can imagine, it also doesn’t make you feel very sexy, and if you have sex at the start of the infection then it only makes things worse (and your partner might get it too).
When I got
to about 20/21 years old I was really getting sick of it, and having it so
often also meant I’d passed it onto my partner a few times. I decided to start
taking action a bit more and stopped shaving altogether; my partner at the time
wasn’t fussy about this sort of thing so it made me feel a lot more comfortable
about just leaving my pubic hair to grow. He also always really sympathised
with me when I had thrush (which made me feel way less self-conscious about
having it) and convinced me to try not shaving to see if that was the main
cause, as he wasn’t bothered either way. I also spoke to a sexual health nurse
where I used to work and discovered that the ‘intimate’ wash I’d been using for
years might actually be causing it too, so I binned this immediately. Both this
nurse and another doctor I spoke to said that I should avoid using soaps on my
vagina altogether, but I also read up that if you did want to use anything it
should be completely free of added perfume and colour, and that you should be
using just around your labia rather than actually using it near your vagina
As a result
of making all of these changes I now barely ever get thrush anymore. The only
shaving I ever do now is every once in a while around my bikini line, and the
rest I just trim on occasion. I did struggle at first to feel sexy with a lot
of hair down there, especially being brought up in an age where everyone around
me was shaving absolutely everything off. However, having a partner who didn’t
care about that sort of thing gave me the confidence to decide that the hair on
my vagina was sexy if I wanted it to be, and that I shouldn’t be making
myself suffer through yeast infection after yeast infection to adhere to what
other people were telling me was sexy! I also don’t use any sort of wash
day-to-day on my vagina, and just rinse with the shower head.
I think it’s really important that there’s more education around thrush, so that people don’t feel embarrassed about having it – like I was as a teen.
If I’d been taught about thrush in my RSE lessons at school then I would’ve felt way less embarrassed about it.
It’s completely normal and almost everyone will get it at some point in their life! It might not be a nice thing to have (like any sort of physical infection) but it’s not gross and people certainly shouldn’t feel ashamed about having it.
On top of
that, we need to have more accurate education when it comes to causes of
thrush, and this needs to be kept up-to-date with the times. I think it’s
really bad that brands are allowed to market themselves as being for your
‘intimate areas’ when actually they’re not the ideal thing to use, and can
often cause problems down there. Similarly, as people from younger generations
can be quite big on grooming, we should incorporate this into teaching about
thrush and how over-grooming isn’t good for your body. I also found I generally
got thrush when I was feeling quite run down, or sometimes even if I’d just had
a bit too much sex! Stuff like this being common knowledge will allow everyone
to have better control over their bodies and know how to get the best out of
theirs, and how to keep infections at bay.
I also think just generally doing what we’ve already started doing in our society with the conversation around sex & sexual health: keep talking about it and it won’t be taboo anymore. I still have some embarrassment around it because of how I felt about having thrush when I was younger but I really hope that future generations will be able to talk about thrush like any sort of ailment, and know how to treat it in that sense too.
(Names have been changed)
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