About 50-60% of cis women will have at least one urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lives, and many of us get way more than just one. A UTI occurs when bacteria enters the urinary tract through the urethra, causing an infection. While anyone can get a UTI, people with vaginas are more at risk because their urethras are shorter, so bacteria has a quicker and easier path to the bladder.
UTIs are easily treatable with medication (though if you don't treat them, they can lead to a more serious infection). “UTIs are treated by antibiotic therapy,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, OB/GYN, Director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford University School of Medicine. “Clinicians will choose the right one for their patients based on medication allergies and tolerability, local antibiotic resistance, and cost.”
But even though UTIs aren’t a cause for major concern, let’s face it, they’re a pain — literally, they make it painful to pee. So let’s talk about how to prevent them in the first place. Yes, they often happen after sex (as the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend song “I Gave You A UTI” explains, “It's not really a comment on the quality of the sex / As much as a lot of sex has been happening / And there's just a very natural transfer of bacteria”). But it’s totally possible to get a UTI without ever having sex.
Here are a few ways to prevent a UTI, courtesy of Dr. Millheiser:
Wipe from front to back
“Just like we were taught as children, always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement," says Dr. Millheiser. This reduces the risk of transferring bacteria from the anus to the urethra.
Pee before and after sex
This advice is right: peeing after sex (or masturbation) helps reduce your UTI sex. Peeing before sex helps too, says Dr. Millheiser. And if you can’t pee immediately after sex, drink some water and pee when you can.
Shower before sex
“Showering or bathing immediately before intercourse reduces the amount of bacteria present around the vaginal opening,” says Dr. Millheiser. It’s also a great opportunity for shower sex (or shower foreplay, if you’re worried about falling over).
Hydration has so many benefits, and helping prevent UTIs is one of them. Another reason to make sure you’re getting eight glasses a day.
“A bladder full of urine is a great place for bacteria to grow,” says Dr. Millheiser. So empty your bladder when you need to.
Avoid irritating products
Douches, scented vaginal products, spermicidal jelly, and even bubble bath or body wash can irritate the vulva and give you a UTI. Avoid them — you don’t need them, anyway.
Try a supplement
Although it won’t replace antibiotics, research has indicated that taking a daily cranberry supplement slightly reduces the rate of UTI recurrences. Dr. Millheiser also suggests Pro-B, a daily probiotic supplement containing two vaginal strains of lactobacilli.
Balance your pH
Research indicates that having a higher vaginal pH balance increases your risk of UTIs. Dr. Millheiser says she recommends the product RepHresh Vaginal Gel to her patients. Consult with your doctor to see if a pH balancing product could be right for you.
Try suppressive therapy
If you have recurrent UTIs — meaning you have more than three UTIs a year — your doctor may suggest you take a daily antibiotic pill, or take an antibiotic after each time you have vaginal sex.