Sexual Health Q&A

What should women know about sex and urinary tract infections (UTIs)?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can occur in any part of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, the bladder, the ureters (two tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder), and the urethra (the tube from which urine exits the body).

Symptoms of UTIs include trouble urinating, pain or a burning sensation when urinating, cloudy or discolored urine, back pain, and lower abdominal pain.

UTIs are more common in women than in men. They are also more common in sexually-active women. Risk increases when a woman has sex with a new partner and when she has many sex partners.

A woman’s anatomy makes her more susceptible to UTIs. Her urethra is close to her vagina and anus. It is also short, about an inch and a half (3.8 centimeters) long. Bacteria transmitted through sex do not have far to go to reach the urethra. And once in the urethra, they can quickly travel to the bladder.

Two birth control methods - diaphragms and spermicides – can increase a woman’s UTI risk. Because of the diaphragm’s placement in the vagina, urine and bacteria can remain. Spermicides can kill bacteria that protect the vagina from infection, making it easier for bacteria to grow.

In addition, sexually-transmitted infections, such as herpes, gonorrhea, and chlamydia, can cause infection in the urethra (urethritis).

To reduce the risk, women are advised to:

• Urinate before and after sex.
• Drink lots of water so that bacteria will leave the body with urine.
• Avoid using a diaphragm and/or spermicide.
• Use lubricated condoms to reduce irritation during sex.
• Always practice safer sex. Discuss STDs and sexual histories with new partners and use condoms during all sexual activities.

Both men and women should always thoroughly clean their genitals before and after sex.

Women who think they might have a UTI should see their doctor. UTIs can usually be treated with antibiotics.

Women who are recovering from a urinary tract infection should wait until the infection has cleared (and all antibiotics are taken) before having sex again. This might take two weeks. Having sex during treatment may be painful and can irritate the healing tissue.