With urinary tract infections (UTIs) occurring in one out of five women, chances are you're well aware of the terrible burning sensation associated with them. In fact, it's said that UTIs will affect at least 50% of us in our lifetime, which means it's a hellish nuisance that, unfortunately, many of us will have to bear. What gives? "A urinary tract infection can be caused by multiple things, from holding a bladder for an extended amount of time, touching the genitals without washing your hands, staying in a wet swimsuit or sweaty gym clothes for long periods of time, and of course by not peeing after sex," Lovehoney Sex Educator, Javay Frye-Nekrasova, M.Ed. And, to Frye-Nekrasova's last point, let's be real — most of us spend a lot of time wondering how to prevent UTIs after sex. It's often thought of as a post-coital problem more than anything else.
Peeing after sex is a pretty common and well-known preventative for warding off this frustrating issue. But what else can we do to keep UTIs from happening? Find out with the following refresher, because our loins should only burn from passion... not from an infection.
What are the symptoms of a UTI?
If you've experienced a UTI before (or many of them), you're not likely to forget the feeling. But if you haven't and suspect that's what's going on, keep an eye out for:
- A strong, persistent urge to pee — even though not much comes out when you do
- A burning sensation when peeing
- Cloudy urine
- Urine that appears red, bright pink, or cola-colored
- Urine with a strange smell
- Fever or chills
- Pain and/or pressure in your back or lower abdomen
- Feeling shaky or tired
How can you prevent UTIs after sex?
According to Frye-Nekrasova, below are some common and easy ways to prevent UTIs after sex.
1. Drink water. "Water helps to flush the system of anything bad or harmful, so the more hydrated you are and regularly drink your water, the better your chances are."
2. Always wash your hands and toys before sex play. If you are going to masturbate or engage in sexual activity with a partner, Frye-Nekrasova advises you to wash your hands. "We touch so much throughout the day, and a lot of germs can be on the hands ... if you don't wash them, you can introduce those germs into the body and the urinary tract," she says. "Be sure to wash under fingernails as well! And if you are using sex toys, being sure to wash them before and after use is crucial!"
3. Give shower sex a go. "Engaging in play in the shower can help minimize the chances of contracting a UTI as the water is actively reducing the amount of bacteria present," says Frye-Nekrasova. However, if you do go the shower sex route, she recommends bringing lube with you "as shower water isn't the best lubricant and increased friction can lead to a higher chance of UTIs. A little bit of water-based lube in the shower can go a long way since water-based lube can be reactivated with water."
4. Drink cranberry juice. It's a classic home remedy for a reason — special ingredients in the fruit actually change the surface of E. coli so it can't bind to the urinary tract and the bladder wall. Research reports that bacteria can be prevented from turning into an infection within eight hours of drinking cranberry juice. "It's considered more effective if drinking cranberry juice is used to prevent rather than treat a UTI, so maybe up your cranberry intake ahead of time," says Frye-Nekrasova.
5. Pee after sex. "I totally understand how sometimes some bomb sex just puts you right to sleep, but peeing after sex is so critical to minimizing the chances of contracting a UTI," says Frye-Nekrasova. "It is also important to note that you shouldn't just be peeing after partnered sex, but also after solo self-pleasuring as well."
6. Always pee. On that note, if you have to pee, pee. Don't hold it in as you give bacteria the chance to grow.
More Tips for Treating/Preventing UTIs
- Increase your vitamin C intake. Vitamin C is a great immune booster than helps kill bacteria in urine by keeping your pH balance low. It's a super-powerful antioxidant and can help you avoid UTIs.
- Break out the heating pad. Heating pads aren't just for cramps. This isn’t a preventative measure but it can also help relieve pain or discomfort in your bladder caused by your UTI. Try your best to treat your UTI early. The quicker you catch it and treat it, the better.
- Practice healthy sexual hygiene by reducing the bacteria in your urinary tract. Minimize the microbes by doing the following: Make sure you urinate before and after sex. Use a condom during intercourse and ensure everyone washes their genitals before and after sex.
- Avoid alcohol, coffee, and caffeinated or citrus drinks when treating a UTI. These liquids can irritate your bladder and intensify your urge to pee.
- It's also wise to avoid drinking too many liquids before bed, as it can lead to an uncomfortable slumber. And make sure to empty your bladder before going to bed.
- Put on incontinence pads for added protection if you are worried about urinating in your sleep.
What are the dangers of not treating a UTI?
"An untreated UTI can spread to your bladder or kidneys, which will require more extensive medical care and potentially surgery," says Frye-Nekrasova. "The bacteria from the urinary tract can move further into the body and impact the way other organs work."
How are UTIs cured?
"Typically, UTIs are cured with antibiotics that have to be prescribed by a doctor," says Frye-Nekrasova. "That is why it is recommended to prevent UTIs by following the tips offered above so that you can avoid having to get in to see a doctor for medicine."
Of course, try as we might, it's not always possible to prevent UTIs after sex. If you notice any of the symptoms above, give your physician a call to schedule an appointment. And make sure that you take all of the prescribed medicine, even once you start to feel better. ("Yes, Mom.")
Lovehoney Sex Educator, Javay Frye-Nekrasova, M.Ed.
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