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Why UTIs happen after sex and what to do about it

by Lyndsey Harper, MD

Anyone who has ever had a UTI knows they’re no walk in the park. Speaking from experience, they’re intense, uncomfortable, and distracting – it’s hard to even go about your normal day when you have one, not to mention the impact on your sex life.

The fact is, sex is a really common trigger for UTIs. If this is the case for you, it’s helpful to talk to your partner about it so you can work towards a solution together. Of course, that may not be the most comfortable conversation in the world, but we’re here to help.

In this article, we give the full lowdown on how to spot a UTI, when to see a doctor and what to say, and some tips about communicating with your partner. That way, when a UTI does happen, it can hopefully be a little less annoying.

What is a UTI?

UTI stands for urinary tract infection. They are the second most common type of infection and happen when there’s been an overgrowth of bacteria somewhere along the urinary tract (in the urethra or the bladder). UTIs can also move further up into the kidneys, which is called a kidney infection.

Symptoms of a UTI

The most common symptom of a UTI is a burning sensation when you pee. It can feel like shards of glass when urine is coming out. Other symptoms include:

  • Urgency to pee
  • Having to pee more often but with a lower volume of urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Pain or tenderness when pushing on the bladder

People over 65 will sometimes not experience any of these “classic” symptoms but instead have a change in their mental status. They may become forgetful or delirious and can run a fever.

What causes a UTI?

Several things can increase your chance of getting a UTI. First and foremost, simply having a vulva is a risk factor, and 20% of people with vulvas have a UTI at some point in their lifetimes.

This has mainly to do with our anatomy – there is a much shorter distance between the anus and urethra in people with vulvas compared to people with penises. So, it’s easier for bacteria from the anus to spread to the urethra and cause an infection.

Things that can lead to a UTI include:

  • Wiping from back to front after using the bathroom;
  • Having penetrative sex (particularly if you start having more frequent sex than usual);
  • Not cleaning sex toys properly.

People with diabetes and those in menopause are also more likely to get UTIs.

When to see a doctor

If you have symptoms of a UTI, it’s important to visit your doctor as soon as possible for testing so you can begin treatment with antibiotics.

People who experience recurrent UTIs (2 UTIs with symptoms within 6 months or 3 UTIs within a year) should try to see the same healthcare provider each time. That way, your doctor can look at your chart and see the type of bacteria causing the infection, and you two can discuss ways to break the cycle.

How to prepare for your visit

It’s helpful to note down a few things before your appointment, particularly if you have recurrent UTIs or feel nervous about discussing sexual health with your doctor, such as:

  • Your symptoms
  • How often this is happening
  • What effect it’s having on your life (including your sex life)

These notes will help to clearly communicate what’s going on within the short appointment time. Also, discuss this in a specialized “problem” visit instead of during your annual wellness checkup to ensure your doctor has enough time to go over it with you.

Rest assured that you’re probably not the only person bringing this up with your doctor that day, as UTIs are the reason for over 8 million doctor’s visits each year in the U.S.

Testing for a UTI at home

These days, it’s possible to test for lots of health issues at home. And while this is definitely convenient, it’s not necessarily the best idea in some cases.

If you’re having trouble getting a timely doctor’s appointment or are struggling with recurrent UTIs and aren’t sure where to get the help you need, you might benefit from learning more about at-home testing.

MyUTI offers a PCR lab test that can tell you if you have a UTI, which bacteria are causing your symptoms, and which antibiotics would be best for treatment. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to see a healthcare provider to get the recommended antibiotics.

The American Urological Association doesn’t recommend using UTI test strips that you can buy over the counter as they can be inaccurate up to 70% of the time.

What if your UTI test comes back negative?

Other health conditions can sometimes cause a burning feeling when you pee. If your UTI test is negative, it could be something else, such as:

Whatever is causing your symptoms, ruling out a UTI brings you one step closer to finding a solution.

Sex and UTIs: Breaking the cycle

If you frequently get UTIs after sex, know that you’re not alone. This is a common trigger because friction easily moves bacteria from the anus, vagina, and penis near the urethra. It can impact the way you experience sex.

On the one hand, when you have a UTI, sex is literally the farthest thing from your mind because having sex is quite painful. And on the other, if you start developing a negative association with sex out of fear of getting a UTI, it can change the way you think about and enjoy sex. Here are some tips about communication and stopping this cycle.

How to talk to your partner about a UTI

Whenever you want to open the doors to a potentially awkward conversation, it’s best to set the stage first. Let your partner know that you have something important to talk about and ask when a good time for them would be, to ensure they’ll have the headspace for the conversation.

Tell them what you’re going through, how it makes you feel, and how intimacy and UTIs might be related. You can also communicate what you’re doing to find a solution.

Try to create a partnership around sexual health challenges. This will put you on the same team working towards a common goal instead of getting into a mindset of questioning when you will have sex again.

And while you’re figuring out how to stop getting UTIs after sex, you can find other ways to be physically intimate. Remember, intimacy is about so much more than penetrative sex.

The sooner you can have these conversations surrounding sex and sexual health and communicate your needs, the more fulfilling the relationship will be long term. Plus, if your partner experiences a sexual concern at some point, they will feel more comfortable bringing it up with you. For more advice on that topic, check out our article on talking to your partner about sex.

How to prevent a UTI after sex

Here are a few ways you and your partner can work together to help put a stop to recurrent UTIs after sex:

  • Rinse with a mild cleanser (like Dove sensitive skin) before having sex, and ensure your partner’s hands are clean before touching you.
  • Clean your sex toys with soap and water each time you use them.
  • Pee after sex (every time!) to flush out and acidify any bacteria that got near the urethra.
  • Don’t have anal sex and then vaginal sex. This will bring bad bacteria from the anus near the urethra.
  • Consider other positions. It’s easier for bacteria to enter the urethra in missionary position than in rear-entry positions.

Think about changing your birth control. Diaphragms, non lubricated condoms, and condoms with spermicide can contribute to the growth of bacteria. Ensure your new birth control method is effective when switching (e.g. if you start taking birth control pills, you may need to wait up to 7 days for them to prevent pregnancy.)

If you are still experiencing UTIs with sex after taking these precautions, speak to your physician or healthcare provider. It’s possible to take antibiotics when you have sex to prevent you from getting an infection.

Last but not least, don’t forget how common UTIs are. The more we can open up the conversation about sexual health topics, the less taboo they’ll become. If you’re struggling with repeat infections, you can always find more helpful resources in the Rosy App and through MyUTI.

Lyndsey Harper, MD is the Founder & CEO of Rosy, a Board Certified Ob/Gyn and sex medicine expert.