There is probably no woman in this country, or in the world, who has never had a UTI problem. It’s often painful, utterly discomforting to suffer from. But if conventional wisdom to be believed, skipping sex can make you immune from UTIs.
No matter how ridiculously funny it may sound, it’s actually one of the most long-standing myths associated with female health. We were also told that contracting UTIs mean we have poor hygiene or use the dirtiest kind of public toilets and so on. Fortunately for us, there is no legitimate research to prove these age-old claims.
So what is the real deal with UTIs and sex? Let’s educate ourselves with the facts, shall we?
What you need to know about UTIs?
While it’s not a complete myth that sexual intercourse is one of the biggest reasons women contract UTIs, sexual activity doesn’t directly cause UTIs. To know the truth about this discomforting disease, we must start with the vital facts.
What is UTI?
Urinary Tract Infection or UTI is a type of infection that can affect any part of the urinary system. The infection is usually caused by bacteria called Escherichia Coli or E. Coli.
Types of UTIs
As mentioned before, any part of the urinary system comes under the risk of contracting UTI. Hence, there can be three types of UTIs in women –
- Urethritis or infection of the urethra
- Cystitis or infection of the bladder
- Pyelonephritis or infection of the kidneys
Myths vs.Facts – UTI’s and Sex
Now let’s look at the most popular myths associated with UTIs and sex and get to the truth. It’s better to debunk them instead of clouding our judgement.
Myth – Having sex causes UTIs
Fact – Any woman at any stage of life can have UTIs. But yes, they are more common during pregnancy and menopause. Yes, sexually active women are more at risk of contracting one. Sexual intercourse can certainly trigger UTIs, but it’s not the only cause. So sex does pose a risk of introducing bacteria to the urinary tract. It can be caused by certain birth control measures, immune system issues, urinary tract abnormalities and diabetes. Hence you can ‘catch’ UTI even when you choose to avoid sex.
Myth – You must have poor hygiene then
Fact – Women who maintain a top-notch personal hygiene routine can also contract UTIs. Like sex, poor hygiene can be a trigger, but not the sole reason. There can be underlying medical conditions or your tendency to not empty the bladder frequently enough to cause UTIs.
Myth – So maybe it’s because you are a woman
Fact – No, dear. Approximately 12% of men get UTI once in their lifetime. But yes, men are low at risk of contracting one because of their anatomy. Women’s urethra is shorter than men, hence it gives bacteria more direct access to their bladder. Moreover, since women’s urethral opening is closer to the vagina and anus, it can be the source of the bacteria.
Even though younger men are very low at risk of contracting UTIs, they become more susceptible to it when they reach their 60s and 70s.
So is it safe to have sexual intercourse when suffering from UTIs?
To find answers to this potent question, Bonobology got in touch with Dr Meena Jhala (Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, IVF and Infertility Specialist) from Mayflower Women’s Hospital, Ahmedabad.
She says, “Having sexual intercourse can exaggerate the problem. It’s because the urethra and vagina are very near to each other, so sex with UTI can aggravate the pain in the area.” Therefore, it’s better to treat the problem first before getting cosy in bed.
However, it’s important to note that UTI is not a transmittable or contagious infection. There is no way having sex with infection in the urinary system can put your partner at risk of ‘catching’ it. But it can worsen your pain in the area, says Dr Jhala. It is thus, best to avoid sex until the UTI has healed up completely, so make sure you ask your doctor on when can you get back to having sex. A course of antibiotics can last a week or so, and the annoying symptoms may show signs of easing up. Some doctors recommend not to resume sex life unless you have been symptom free for two weeks, and the antibiotics course has been completed.
How to prevent UTIs?
Dr. Jhala shares some medical advice for young and sexually active women to prevent UTIs. “Drinking lots and lots of water is very important, as it flushes out toxins from the system”, she says. Peeing before having sex and peeing after it’s done is also a smart way to lower the risk of contracting the bacteria. “Vaginal dryness can also aggravate urinary tract problems, so lubrication during sex is a must to prevent infection,” says Dr Jhala.
Treatments for UTIs
UTI is a common problem with women of all ages and colours. Many women can have repeat infections in their lifetime – ranging from mild to severe. But if the infection is causing you pain and discomfort, then waste no time and head straight to the doctor. “In case of serious problems, antibiotics are given,” Dr Jhala says. In case of mild discomfort and manageable burning sensation, drinking lots of fluid can help solve the problem. But remember not to ignore the urge to pee and stall it for long.