Think you know what causes yeast infections? One gyno gets real about yeast infection symptoms, causes, and treatment

By Macaela Mackenzie
August 17, 2015

Our situation below the belt isn't always as perfect as we like to let on. In fact, as many as three in four women will experience a yeast infection at some point, according to a study conducted by feminine care company Monistat. Despite how common they are, half of us don't know what to do about them, or what's normal and what's not.

"A lot of the confusion and misconceptions around yeast infections is a result of women being embarrassed to talk about them," says Lisa Masterson, M.D., a Santa Monica-based ob-gyn.

We figured it's time to start talking.

For starters, what exactly is a yeast infection? It's an overgrowth of yeast called candida albicans that can occur when your body's natural balance of bacteria is disrupted-the result of anything from pregnancy, to your period, or even taking antibiotics. Symptoms can include everything from burning and itching to a thick white discharge that can have you all kinds of freaked out.

As for what else you need to know about the uncomfortable infection, we got the scoop from Masterson on the five most common yeast infection myths and how to handle them.

Myth: Sex is the Primary Cause of Yeast Infections

A whopping 81 percent of women think getting down and dirty condemns you to a yeast infection, according to the Monistat survey. Thankfully, that's not the case. Masterson makes it clear that a yeast infection can't actually be transmitted through sexual activity-although it's easy to mistake any discomfort in your lady bits for the problem. "New sexual activity can cause irritation and inflammation that are often mistaken for a yeast infection," Masterson says. A little irritation is fairly common and not something to stress over, although it is important to remember that sex can cause UTIs (it's actually one of 4 Surprising Causes of Urinary Tract Infections). So how can you tell when the discomfort something more? If it doesn't disappear after a day or two or the something funky becomes a recurring issue, it's probably time to consult a doctor.

Myth: You Can't Get a Yeast Infection If You Use a Condom

The Monistat survey also found that 67 percent of women think that wrapping things up will decrease their chances of developing an infection. "Condoms are great for reducing sexually transmitted diseases, but because a yeast infection is not an STD, a condom doesn't help," says Masterson. You may, however, want to delay doing the deed since the itching and burning associated with yeast infection symptoms can make things a little uncomfortable-and a little less sexy. "Ultimately, it depends on what you and your partner feel most comfortable doing," she says. (Find out 7 Conversations You Must Have for a Healthy Sex Life.)

Myth: Eating Lots of Yogurt Can Keep You From Getting a Yeast Infection

We actually always have the bacteria that cause these infections in our bodies, Masterson explains. It's when the natural balance of it in the vagina gets thrown out of whack that we start having issues. A common misconception is that regularly downing probiotic-packed yogurt will help keep this balance in check, but there's no scientific evidence beyond the claim, she says. "While having a healthy diet is helpful in fighting off any infection, there is no particular food or drink that can fight off a yeast infection or prevent one," she explains.

Myth: You Can Wash a Yeast Infection Away

Unfortunately, the cure is not as simple as a little soap and water. Since yeast infections are caused by an imbalance of bacteria, it's not necessarily a hygiene issue; however, there are certain things you can do to up your chances of keeping things fresh. To prevent yeast infections from occurring, Masterson suggests a few simple tricks. "For prevention, use unscented soaps and body washes, always wipe front to back, avoid tight clothing that traps sweat, change out of wet bathing suits, and wear breathable cotton underwear," she says. (Didn't realize cotton was best? Learn 7 More Underwear Facts That Might Surprise You.)

Myth: Yeast Infections Can Never Be Cured

A whopping 67 percent of women think yeast infections can never be cured, according to the Monistat study. "The biggest mistake women make when trying to treat a yeast infection is using products that only treat the symptoms but don't actually cure the infection," says Masterson. And, even though more than two thirds of women surveyed think you need a 'script to treat the problem, over the counter medicine will nix it just fine. Masterson recommends Monistat 1,3, and 7 to treat your run-of-the-mill infection. "They are prescription-strength without the prescription and start curing on contact," she says.