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Marlena, 23, shares her experience of thrush and why we need to normalise talking about it.
I can’t remember ever particularly learning about thrush or being told about it. The first time I noticeably had thrush was when I was 18 and was on doxycycline as an anti-malarial for 3 months. I had been warned this could be a side effect so I used a cream but it didn’t really help. I wasn’t 100% sure what it was at first, even though I’d been told it was a likely side effect of the antibiotics. I felt these bumps around my vaginal opening and a woman I was with at the time explained it was likely thrush. Once I was off the doxycycline I took a one-off pill for it and it seemed to calm down for a while.
After that, I didn’t really have thrush again for about a year – which also coincided with a time I wasn’t having a lot of penetrative sex. From the age of 20 onwards though, I have had chronic thrush.
When I started have regular sexual partners my thrush became chronic and difficult to handle. After using over-the-counter treatments a few times I went to the doctor and was prescribed Fluconazole. It took me a while to realise though that I really had to wait a full week (at least) after taking medication and for the thrush to clear up before having penetrative sex again. What I also didn’t realise, and it wasn’t until a friend told me this, was that I was likely giving my partners thrush which they were transferring back to me after I’d been treated for it.
I remember once having to stop during sex because it was so painful.
I ended up going on fluconazole for a period of 3 months which helped for a while but then it came back. I then went on a 6 month course of fluconazole, but I had just started seeing someone and by this point I was so determined to have it properly treated, we didn’t have penetrative sex for the whole month. I believe not being able to have penis in vagina sex (PinV) contributed to why our relationship didn’t last longer than a month (thankfully, to be honest!). I’m now off the fluconazole, and according to the last swab test I had there are no signs of thrush. But I am quite careful still with PinV. I always use lube to reduce the chances of irritation and I’m a lot more honest and upfront with partners about it.
I think everyone needs to know about thrush because it is a really common infection and can get to the point where it is seriously irritating and even painful. I personally felt quite embarrassed to tell partners about it which was bad for two reasons: firstly, because it meant I’d often put up with discomfort during sex and secondly, it meant I was likely transferring it to them which made treating myself an endless cycle. Although thrush isn’t considered an STI there needs to be a greater awareness of how it can be transmitted during sex to anyone, and disclosure should be encouraged.
I think, like anything, people talking about their own experiences more openly is a huge way of normalising it.
Open dialogue can massively reduce stigma and help people realise it’s not just them. It needs to be part of education at school. Talking about it in school with friends, like we do the common cold, would massively change our understanding of it.
You can follow Marlena on Instagram @wenudetotalk
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