Tips for how to prevent UTIs after sex
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common bacterial infections of the urinary tract which is made up of the urethra, ureters, bladder and kidneys. UTIs occur when harmful bacteria enter the body through the urethra and spread. This spread causes infections classified as UTIs.
UTIs are highly common. Roughly 50% of all women will experience one in their lifetime. Nearly 10% of women will experience a UTI annually. While these infections affect women more often than men, men can still develop them. In both men and women, sexual activity is one of the most prevalent risk factors for developing an infection. Luckily, you do not have to swear off sex to prevent UTIs. In this article, we’ll detail how sex plays a role in the development of urinary tract infections and how to avoid them while remaining sexually active.
What are UTIs?
UTIs are bacterial infections of the urinary tract. Bacteria–usually Escherichia coli (E. coli)–enter the body through the urethra and spread. “Urinary tract infection” is an umbrella term for bacterial infections of the various organs in the urinary tract. While most UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the body through the urethra, the germs can spread to any of the organs in the urinary tract.
- Urethral infections (urethritis)
- Ureter infections (ureteritis)
- Bladder infections (cystitis)
- Kidney infections (pyelonephritis)
A UTI may cause mild or no symptoms at all. In others, symptoms can be painful and severe.
- A strong and persistent urge to urinate (urgency)
- A burning sensation while urinating (dysuria)
- Frequent urination with little volume (frequency)
- Cloudy or hazy urine
- If your urine is scarlet, bright pink, or cola-colored, this is an indication that there is blood in it (hematuria)
- Strong smelling urine
- Pressure or cramping in the groin, lower abdomen or lower belly (common with a bladder infection)
- Lower back pain (common with kidney infection)
Other risk factors
Aside from sex, common risk factors for UTIs include:
Gender: Women are more likely to develop a UTI than men due to their anatomy. Women have a shorter urethra, making it easier for bacteria to infect the bladder. In addition, the opening of the urethra is closer to the anus in women.
Age: Older adults are at greater risk of developing UTIs. A decline in estrogen in women post-menopause can cause changes in the urinary tract. This can increase the risk of developing UTIs. In men, an enlarged prostate can lead to bacterial build-up and infection. Kidney stones cause similar blockage problems to urinary flow and also increase the risk of UTIs.
A weakened immune system: Individuals with a weakened immune system are at greater risk for developing recurrent UTIs. The body is unable to defend itself against germs, making it vulnerable to infection.
If you begin to notice any of the signs or symptoms listed above, talk to a health care provider right away.
Sex and UTIs
Sexual activity is a common cause of urinary tract infections, especially in young men and women. It is important to note that UTIs are not sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but infections that can be caused by sex.
Birth control: Certain types of contraceptives, such as diaphragms and lubricants with spermicide have been shown to increase the risk of UTIs. Diaphragms can push against the urethra, causing urine to become trapped in the bladder. When this occurs, bacteria can populate and infect the organ. Spermicides (often found in lubricants and on condoms) can change the bacterial balance of the genital area, making it susceptible to infection.
Sexual intercourse: The thrusting motion of sexual intercourse can push gastrointestinal bacteria around the rectum toward the opening of the urethra. This can increase the risk of bacteria entering the body and causing an infection. Intercourse can also lead to chafing of the genital area. This irritation can increase the risk of infection. It’s important to note that penetrative sex is not the only cause of UTIs. Oral and manual sex can also introduce harmful bacteria to the opening of the urethra, leading to infection.
Anal sex: Anal sex, understandably, can introduce bacteria from the anus to the genital area. This can lead to urinary tract infections. Men who have anal sex are at greater risk for developing UTIs (even though these infections are rare in men) for this reason.
Sexually transmitted infections: Urinary tract infections are NOT sexually transmitted infections. However, STIs can increase your risk of developing UTIs. Diseases such as chlamydia and gonorrhea can affect your urinary system while depressing your immune system. These side effects can make you more susceptible to UTIs and other forms of infection.
Again, it should be noted that a UTI is not a sexually transmitted infection. While sexual activity can cause bacteria to enter the body and infect the urinary tract, sex itself won’t lead to transmission.
UTI Prevention After Sex
Not all UTIs are preventable. Neither will all sexual activity cause a urinary tract infection. To help mitigate your risk of developing a urinary tract infection after sex, practice these preventative measures:
Drink plenty of water
Go to the bathroom as soon as you feel the urge to do so and be sure to completely empty your bladder
Use a condom with a water-based lubricant while having sex (this can also help protect against STIs)
Practice safe sex (especially with a new partner)
Men and women should be sure to urinate shortly after having sex
Maintain good genital hygiene (avoid douching and perfumed sprays as these can irritate the area)
Women should wipe from front to back, away from the urethra and vaginal opening and towards the anus
Men should wash under the foreskin when taking a bath or shower (if uncircumcised)
If you have been diagnosed with a UTI, you will need to treat the infection with a course of antibiotic medication. Prescription medication is required to completely neutralize the invasive bacteria while preventing its spread to other organs. A prescription for UTI medication can be written by a primary care provider or a doctor of Urology (urologist).
- Ciprofloxacin (Cipro)
- Levofloxacin (Levaquin)
- Nitrofurantoin (Macrobid)
- Trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole (Bactrim)
These drugs will reduce symptoms caused by the infection while shortening the healing process. Take the full course of medication even if you begin to notice symptoms subsiding. Recurrent urinary tract infections can occur when the first infection is not completely treated.
There are no over-the-counter or home remedies that can adequately treat a UTI. There is little to no evidence that non-prescription treatment options like cranberry products (like cranberry juice) or probiotics can properly treat a urinary tract infection.
You do not have to swear off sex to protect yourself from a UTI. Instead, use the preventative measures outlined above to mitigate your risk of developing an infection. Similarly, if you are sexually active, you should undergo regular STI testing. This safe sex practice can help prevent the spread of dangerous sexually transmitted infections while also reducing your risk of developing a UTI.
If you are beginning to notice the early signs of a UTI (like incontinence or pain during urination), you should talk to a health care provider right away. Getting immediate treatment for a UTI has never been easier. Book an online UTI doctor visit on Sesame to talk to a licensed provider from the comfort of your own home. When appropriate, providers on Sesame can prescribe antibiotic medication to be delivered to your home or picked up at your local pharmacy.
If you think you might be experiencing a sexually transmitted infection, you can book an online STI management consult on Sesame to discuss your symptoms and treatment options. Screening and treatment are crucial for preventing the spread of these diseases, so get started on your care right away.
- Sexual Intercourse and Risk of Symptomatic Urinary Tract Infection in Post-Menopausal Women. Moore, E. E., Hawes, S. E., Scholes, D., Boyko, E. J., Hughes, J. P., & Fihn, S. D. (2008). https://www.nih.gov
- Health behavior and urinary tract infection in college-aged women. (Foxman B, Chi JW.) (1990). https://nih.gov.
- Urinary Tract Infection. Bono MJ, Leslie SW, Reygaert WC. (2022). https://www.nih.gov.