Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a chronic problem for some women. For sexually active women, UTIs and sex can be especially problematic. The main reason for this increased risk? Women have a shorter urethra– the tube that carries urine out of the body. Some bacteria are ordinarily present in the genital area around the urinary and vaginal opening. Pair this with a warm moist environment, and this creates an ideal breeding ground for bacteria to multiply and make themselves at home. Add sexual activity which pushes bacteria into the urethra, and it’s easy to see how the urinary tract can be a hotbed of activity for invading bacteria.
In this article, we answer some questions about UTIs and sex and provide five of the best ways to reduce your risk.
What is the connection between UTIs and sex?
Approximately 40-60% of women will experience a UTI in her lifetime, and one in four will experience a repeat infection. When you combine bacteria from the skin around your urinary and vaginal opening with sexual activity and a shorter urethra, unfortunately, this can be the perfect recipe for a UTI. Sex may push bacteria into the urethra where they creep into the bladder and stick around causing an infection.
How do I know if I have a UTI?
If you’ve ever had a UTI, you know the signs. You may feel pressure in your lower abdomen, have back pain, burning during urination, or an urgent need to urinate. Your urine may have an odor or a reddish color, or you might feel tired, shaky and feverish. Occasionally, some women have no symptoms at all and discover that they have a UTI from a screening urinalysis at a doctor’s visit. If you think you have an infection, it’s essential to follow the advice of your healthcare provider right away.
What should I do if I have a UTI?
It is important to note that if you have a UTI, you will need to take an antibiotic. While cranberries and other natural solutions may help prevent future UTIs, no study has ever shown that they can cure one.
Women who have a UTI should finish antibiotic treatment and wait until the infection has cleared up before having sex. Sex during a UTI can be painful and may irritate healing tissue as well as introduce bacteria into the urinary tract prolonging treatment to get rid of the infection.
What can I do to prevent a UTI?
When it comes to sexual activity, there are a few things you can do to prevent an infection. Hygiene, contraception choice and some other simple habits can help prevent a UTI from starting. These simple changes go a long way toward helping to prevent a UTI.
Here are five things you can do to help break the cycle of UTIs and sex.
1. Clean your genital area before and after sex.
Hygiene can be helpful to remove bacteria present in the genital area before and after sex. When you were a child, you were probably taught to wipe from front to back. This advice is good for adult women, too. When cleaning yourself, use a clean washcloth with soap and water or a disposable cleansing wipe. Wipe from front to back to avoid introducing bacteria from the rectal area into the urethra.
2. Avoid using a diaphragm, spermicide, and spermicide-coated condoms.
A diaphragm is a flexible silicone or latex dome-shaped device that works by creating a barrier at the cervical opening. In some women, the diaphragm can slightly obstruct urine flow. This obstruction may lead to a diminished flow of urine or changes in the vaginal flora. All of these things can promote UTIs. Spermicide is applied to the diaphragm before insertion, and unfortunately, the use of both the diaphragm itself and the spermicide can promote UTIs.
The same goes for spermicide-coated condoms. A study found that women are at two to three times greater risk for a UTI by using spermicide with a diaphragm or spermicidal condoms.
3. Use lubricant during sex if you’re experiencing dryness.
Vaginal dryness may put you at higher risk for UTIs. This type of dryness may lead to irritation which, in turn, may help bacteria grow. Using a non-spermicidal lubricant can help. If you’re postmenopausal, see a urologist for additional recommendations.
4. Urinate after sex to flush bacteria.
Dr. Martha Boone, a board-certified urologist in Alpharetta, Georgia says that one way to flush out any stray bacteria that may have entered the urinary tract during sex is to urinate right after sex.
5. Take a cranberry extract from whole cranberry fruit – one with a daily dose of 36 mg PACs.
Cranberries are a go-to solution for helping to reduce the risk of UTIs. Cranberries contain unique compounds called, proanthocyanidins (PACs), that can help keep bacteria from adhering to the inside of the bladder – which can prevent an infection. It’s important to note that although research supports using cranberries to prevent a UTI, they cannot treat an existing infection. Once a UTI has occurred, you will need an antibiotic for treatment.
Research supports the benefit of compounds found in cranberries, known as proanthocyanidins (PACs), for reducing the risk of getting a UTI. The PACs in cranberries can prevent the bacteria that enter the urinary tract from sticking to the bladder wall and causing an infection.
Amy Howell, Ph.D. is a cranberry researcher who first discovered cranberry PACs. You can only find A-type PACs in cranberries. These PACs have proven bacterial anti-adhesion activity (AAA), which is how they help prevent a UTI. You can find PACs in other foods such as apples, grapes, green tea and chocolate, but they are B-type PACs. Dr. Howell determined that only A-type PACs could bind to and prevent the sticking of E. coli bacteria, the most common bacteria that cause a UTI. The E. coli bacteria bind to A-type PACs, making it easier for them to be flushed out in the urine before a UTI can start.
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