Several kinds of vaginal infections can be transmitted through sexual interaction. The infections we discuss in this section are also frequently contracted through nonsexual means. Vaginitis and leukorrhea are general terms applied to a variety of vaginal infec­tions characterized by a whitish discharge. The secretion can also be yellow or green because of the presence of pus cells, and it often has a disagreeable odor. Additional symptoms of vaginitis include irritation and itching of the genital tissue, burning sen­sation during urination, and pain around the vaginal opening during intercourse.

Vaginal infections are common. Practically every woman experiences one or more of these infections during her lifetime. In fact, vaginitis is one of the most common rea­sons women consult health-care providers (Head, 2008). Under typical circumstances many of the organisms that cause vaginal infections are relatively harmless. In fact, some routinely live in the vagina and cause no trouble unless something alters the normal vaginal environment and allows them to overgrow. The vagina normally houses bacteria (lactobacilli) that help maintain a healthy vaginal environment. The pH of the vagina is usually sufficiently acidic to ward off most infections. However, certain conditions can alter the pH toward the alkaline side, which can leave a woman vulnerable to infection. Some factors that increase the likelihood of vaginal infection include antibiotic ther­apy, use of contraceptive pills, menstruation, pregnancy, wearing pantyhose and nylon underwear, and lowered resistance from stress or lack of sleep. Douching also increases the risk of vaginal infections, especially bacterial vaginosis (Centers for Disease Control, 2009i; Cottrell & Close, 2008). In spite of the negative health consequences associated with douching, evidence indicates that almost 36% of women of childbearing age in the United States engage in douching (Cottrell & Close, 2008).

Most women with vaginitis have an infection diagnosed as bacterial vaginosis, can­didiasis, or trichomoniasis. Bacterial vaginosis is the most common of these infections.