- A UTI is a bacterial infection in women (and rarely, in men) that’s caused by the growth of harmful bacteria called Escherichia coli.
- The best ways to prevent getting a UTI after sex are to use the bathroom after sexual activity, cleanse your genitals before and after having sex, use a probiotic for vaginal health, take a d-mannose supplement, drink lots of water, and wear loose-fitting clothing.
- Because further sexual contact can push E. coli bacteria further up your urinary tract, worsening your infection, doctors generally don’t recommend having sex while you have a UTI.
When you’re ready to get busy in the bedroom, preventing infection is probably the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, sexual activity is linked to a common type of infection called a urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, aren’t a sexually transmitted infection, but sex is one of many activities that can increase your risk for infection.
In order to avoid UTIs—and their host of uncomfortable, embarrassing symptoms—keep these preventative measures in mind.
What Is a UTI?
If you’re reading this article, you’re probably far more familiar with UTIs than you ever wanted to be. But just for a refresher, here’s the skinny on these uncomfortable urinary infections.
A UTI is a bacterial infection in women (and rarely, in men—but we’ll discuss this more below) that’s caused by the growth of harmful bacteria called Escherichia coli, or E. coli. (1) E. coli is a naturally occuring bacteria in the body, but it’s normally found in the digestive tract. Unfortunately, when this type of bacteria ends up in the wrong location—like the urinary tract—it can cause an infection. According to the Urology Care Foundation, about 40% of women and about 10% of men will get a UTI in their lifetime. (2)
The urinary tract is composed of several organs:
- The urethra is where urine empties from your body
- The bladder holds the urine until it’s ready to be released
- The ureters transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder
- The kidneys filter urine
Most UTIs start in the urethra. However, if they’re not treated quickly, bad bacteria can spread up the urinary tract and cause a bladder infection or a kidney infection. Severe kidney infections can cause sepsis or even death in some people with other medical history, so it’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible if you think you have a UTI, and to get to the root of the problem if your UTI keeps coming back to preserve your urinary tract health. (3)
Common Symptoms of UTIs
For most women, UTIs aren’t one of those infections you don’t realize you have. The symptoms that come from growth of UTI-causing bacteria can be uncomfortable and downright embarrassing.
Some common UTI symptoms include:
- Abnormal urine that may appear cloudy or smell strange
- A strong urge to use the bathroom, so severe it may cause urinary incontinence in some cases
- An inability to fully empty the bladder when using the bathroom
- Abdominal pain or pelvic pain
- Blood in urine
- Pain or stinging when using the bathroom
In general, a UTI is trademarked by a frequent urge to urinate that keeps you running to the bathroom every few minutes. However, when you try to go to the restroom and relieve your discomfort, the experience is painful, and you can only pass a small amount of urine. Sound familiar? Then it’s time to get some treatment.
Can You Get a UTI From Having Sex?
If a UTI isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, then what’s the connection between sex and this common infection? The nasty bacteria—E. coli—which cause UTIs typically live in your digestive tract, including your anus. When you have sex, these unwanted bacteria can spread to your urethra during foreplay or sex, introducing them to an area they don’t belong in and causing infection.
Additionally, because UTIs are a bacterial infection, they can potentially spread from person to person during sex. Contact with bacteria on your sex partner can cause bacterial growth on your own body, and if this bad bacteria grows and proliferates, it can cause a UTI.
Can You Have Sex With a UTI?
Although you’re probably not going to share a UTI with your partner if you have sex while you’re infected, doctors still don’t typically recommend having sex with you have a UTI. Further sexual contact can push E. coli bacteria further up your urinary tract, worsening your infection. Sex can also irritate your genital area, which is already sensitive due to the infection, making you feel worse.
Other Causes of UTIs
Sex isn’t the only cause of UTIs, although it’s probably the most well-known cause. However, any activity that increases the risk of bacterial growth in your urethra can cause a UTI, including:
- Wearing wet underwear or swimsuits for long periods of time
- Sitting for long periods of time, like people who work in desk jobs
- Failing to completely empty your bladder when you use the bathroom, perhaps because of kidney stones or an incorrectly placed menstrual cup (4)
- Overuse of antibiotics, which can disrupt your body’s levels of healthy bacteria and make it easier for bad bacteria to grow (5)
- Sex with a new partner can increase your risk of UTIs—in fact, UTIs are often referred to as “honeymoon cystitis” because many women get them when first having sex (6)
- Wiping from back to front instead of front to back when using the bathroom
Unfortunately, some simply people have higher risk of getting a UTI after sex. Several factors can increase your likelihood for developing an infection, including:
- Your family history. If your mom or your sister gets frequent UTIs, you are more likely to struggle with them as well
- Your gender. Simply having female anatomy increases your likelihood of getting a UTI. That’s because the female urethra is much closer to the anus than the male urethra.
- Your genital anatomy. Some people have a shorter urethra than others, which can make it easier for E. coli to quickly move up the urinary tract and cause infection.
- If you’re pregnant. When you’re pregnant, your uterus grows to accommodate your growing baby. Because the uterus sits on top of the bladder, it can put pressure on the bladder and cause problems fully voiding urine, which can cause a UTI. (7)
- If you’ve gone through menopause. Post-menopausal women have lower levels of estrogen in the body. (8) These hormonal changes can impact the body’s natural bacterial levels and increase the risk of bacteria getting where it doesn’t belong.
- Your contraception method. Use of some forms of contraception, like diaphragms or spermicides, can increase your risk of infection.
Can Guys Get UTIs?
Yes, men can get UTIs too—or even unknowingly pass them on to their female sexual partner. However, the genital anatomy of men makes it more challenging for bacteria to accidentally transfer from the anus to the urethra.
Men with UTIs experience similar symptoms to women, although they may also notice rectal pain in addition to the other symptoms.
How To Avoid Getting a UTI After Having Sex
Taking the proper precautions can help you prevent this dangerous infection.
One of the easiest ways to reduce your risk of a UTI is to fully empty your bladder after every time you have sex, even if you’ve been with your same partner for years. If E. coli spreads to your urethra during foreplay or sex, flushing it out can help prevent an infection from occurring. Regularly drinking at least 6–8 glasses of water a day can help you to always be flushing your urinary tract of bacteria and debris, keeping you healthy.
If possible, shower before having sex to reduce the amount of bacteria present, and wash your genital area after sex with warm water too. However, avoid using scented feminine washes when cleansing, since this can irritate sensitive skin and make you more prone to infection. Use a mild soap to avoid irritation.
Wear loose-fitting, breathable underwear and pants. Leggings, tight jeans, or silky underwear can create a moist, damp environment that’s ideal for bacterial growth. You may even want to change your underwear after having sex to increase breathability in this area.
Regularly taking a probiotic for vaginal health can help your body maintain the right balance of good bacteria, which can ward off infection when E. coli appears in the urethra. Additionally, taking cranberry pills for vaginal health formulated with d-mannose is proven to both treat UTIs and prevent them from occurring in the first place. (9)
Treatment for UTIs
A UTI is typically diagnosed by a health care provider by taking a urine sample. Your doctor will analyze this sample for E. coli bacterial growth and, if present, they’ll provide you with a prescription for antibiotics. Some antibiotics may be a 3-day regimen or a 7-day regimen, but for people with recurring UTIs, doctors may prescribe a low-dose antibiotic to be taken after every time you have sex.
Natural Treatment for UTIs
Antibiotic treatment has its own risks, from bacterial persistence to diarrhea. If you’d rather treat your UTI naturally, you have several options.
- Take a d-mannose supplement
- Drink plenty of water and use the restroom often to completely flush bacteria from your urethra
- Consume probiotics, whether through your diet, like in yogurt or kefir, or through a probiotic supplement (10)
Research shows that between 25% to 42% of mild UTIs go away without any treatment, so trying a natural treatment method first before going to the doctor is typically pretty safe. (11) However, if your symptoms get worse or you start to develop a fever, you should get medical attention immediately to prevent your infection from worsening.
UTIs Shouldn’t Slow Down Your Sex Life
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