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Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009

Oral Sex and Yeast Infections

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A local erotic writer recently contacted me about a comment she received from a reader (you can read the piece she references in her question, as well as click through to her other work, here).

I just wrote a piece about helping women get over their hang-ups on receiving oral sex. One of the e-mails I've gotten in response asked a question that stumped me. A man said that he and his wife have noticed that she tends to develop yeast infections after he's gone down on her, and I've actually had a similar experience with a previous partner. His question was about what to do. Any suggestions on what's causing it or what he can do to make his mouth more oral friendly?

To get an answer to this question, I contacted nurse practitioner Meg Robertson, a lead clinician at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. She says, "Maintaining a normal pH balance in the vagina is key to preventing vaginal infections such as yeast vaginitis and bacterial vaginosis (BV). Both yeast and BV are caused by organisms that are normally present in the vagina and essentially keep each other in balance to prevent an overgrowth of either one. Many things can alter the pH balance of a woman's vagina, including soap/bath products, tampons, douching and exposure to bodily fluids such as blood, semen and saliva.

"When the pH is changed, that alone can trigger an overgrowth of either yeast or bacteria, or both,” Robertson continues. “It is highly unlikely that he is 'giving her a yeast infection' in that yeast is not a sexually transmitted infection. However, it is very possible that his saliva is altering the pH balance of her vagina, which may then be triggering an infection.

"The solution may be to use a dental dam for cunnilingus, which can also help to prevent transmission of some STDs, such as oral herpes, to the genital area,” she adds. “It is also important for women to cleanse the outside of the vagina/vulva with plain water after either vaginal or oral sex to remove any body fluids, lubricant, etc. left from their partner."

If you aren't familiar with the term "pH balance," it is basically a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of any environment. The vagina tends to be naturally acidic. For a bit more of an explanation of pH balance, check out what the ladies of SweetSpot Labshave to say. SweetSpot makes cleansers that are designed to maintain the normal pH of the vagina, so if you don't feel like getting out of bed right away to wash with plain water as Ms. Robertson suggests, keeping a few of their On-the-Go Wipettes next to the bed may be helpful.

If you decide to use dental dams to help prevent yeast infections, it's important to use lubricant on both sides of the dam (the side pressed against the vulva and the side that's being licked). No one likes dry latex on their private bits! Lubricant itself can be a cause of yeast infections for some people, especially if the lube contains glycerin. Sliquid Swirl is one of the only glycerin-free flavored lubricants around, making it a good choice for this particular situation. I'm not saying that cherry vanilla lube is a match for the delicious taste of pussy, but it's a nonirritating option for both partners.

I'd also like to pass on a dental dam tip that Midori shared during her "How to Eat a Peach" workshop a couple of weeks ago. Often, people think of dental dams, which are large squares of latex or polyurethane, as being difficult to use, because you have to hold them in place somehow. Midori whipped out a garter belt that she had rigged to hold a dental dam in place by attaching one of each of the four garters to the four corners of the dental dam. Just step into it like underwear, and you're good to go—plus, the garter belt looks hot. Midori wore one of these over her pants throughout most of the class and looked quite fetching.

Some people also like to use cut-open latex gloves for safer oral sex instead of dental dams. After slicing open the glove and spreading it apart, you can stick your tongue in the thumb of the glove, which might allow you to be a little more dexterous with your licking and sucking than might a flat piece of latex.

If you're having trouble visualizing either of these methods, feel free to stop by the Tool Shed for a demo. Hopefully some of these suggestions will help!

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.

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