It’s generally accepted that women who are sexually active tend to have more urinary tract infections (UTIs) than do women who are not sexually active. In fact, nearly 80 percent of premenopausal women with a urinary tract infection engaged in sexual activities within the previous 24 hours.
This doesn’t mean it’s time for abstinence, but it does suggest we need to know more about the relationship between sex and urinary tract infections and how we can help prevent and adequately treat them.
What is a urinary tract infection?
A urinary tract infection is a condition usually caused by bacteria that enter the urinary tract via the urethra. The bacteria most often behind UTIs are Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Proteus mirabilis, Enterococcus faecalis, and Staphylococcus saprophyticus.
When the microorganisms reach the bladder, the UTI is known as cystitis. Most of the infections affect the urethra and bladder alone. If the bacteria travel into the kidneys, the condition is known as pyelonephritis.
How do you know if you have a urinary tract infection? Some telltale symptoms include:
- An urgent need to pee
- Discolored, cloudy, or bloody urine
- Strange smelling pee
- Pelvic pain
- Burning sensation when urinating
Why do UTIs happen after sex
The vagina harbors both beneficial and bad bacteria. When you engage in sexual activity, research shows that vaginal penetration presents an opportunity for the bacteria from the genitals and anus to make contact with a woman’s urethra. The microorganisms then can travel along the urethra into the urinary tract, where they can cause an infection.
Some women experience a urinary tract infection flare-up if they have an increase in sexual activity. Men can also develop a UTI, but they don’t usually get them from having sex with a woman because they usually already have the bacteria in their urinary tract.
What are other causes and risks associated with UTIs?
In addition to sexual activity, numerous other causes and risk factors have been identified.
- Use of birth control: Diaphragms and spermicidal products have both been associated with a greater risk of UTIs.
- Menopause: Declining estrogen levels alter the urinary tract, making it more susceptible to infection.
- Bathroom habits: Wiping from back to front can introduce pathogens to the urethra, which then travel up the urinary tract. Holding your urine also can create an environment for infection.
- Urinary tract blockages: The presence of kidney stones can trap urine in the bladder and raise the risk of urinary tract infections.
- Suppressed immune system: Diseases that suppress the immune system, such as diabetes, lupus, and multiple sclerosis, can increase the risk of UTIs.
- Use of a catheter: If you have to use a catheter while in the hospital or for any other reason, your risk of developing a urinary tract infection increases.
How can you help prevent UTIs before and after sex?
A few simple habits performed before and after sexual activity can help prevent the development of UTIs.
- Urinate before and/or after sex.
- Clean your genital area before and after sex with natural cleansing wipes or natural soap and warm water.
- Wash your hands before manual manipulation to help reduce the risk of introducing bacteria into the urethra.
- Avoid using spermicides.
- Discuss contraceptive options with your doctor, as some women are allergic to diaphragms or condoms and get UTIs more frequently.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day; 8 glasses of water are recommended.
Which supplements help with urinary tract health?
Certain natural supplements can be helpful for supporting and promoting urinary tract health. These include:
- Cranberry: These berries contain PACs (proanthocyanidins), bioactive ingredients in cranberries that have been shown to help prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract as well as help flush harmful bacteria from the urinary tract and have a positive effect on bladder health. However, you need a very high dose of PACs to actually prevent UTIs. In fact, an exact daily dose of 36 milligrams at 15 percent concentration. Utiva Health has a supplement with each capsule measured contains the clinically proven dose of PACs, measured by the most accurate scientific method DMAC/A2. You can learn more about their offering on their website.
- Vitamin C: This potent antioxidant may protect against urinary tract infections by raising the level of acidity of the urine. This helps kill the bacteria that cause infection.
- Probiotics: One study reported that beneficial bacteria, Lactobacillus, in particular, helped prevent the development of urinary tract infections in women.
- Garlic extract: The antimicrobial properties of garlic may help block the growth of bacteria and thus avoid UTIs.
- D-mannose: This is a type of sugar found in cranberries and other fruits. It’s been shown to be helpful in managing urinary tract infections and preventing UTI recurrences by targeting Ecoli. [Editor’s Note: If you really want to go hard at preventing UTIs, Utiva offers the Max Power Bundle, which includes their 36mg PAC UTI Control Supplement, D-Mannose Attack, and their Probiotic Power. A triple threat in the fight against UTIs.
Is it safe to have sex when you have a UTI?
The symptoms of a urinary tract infection can be very uncomfortable and painful, and they may make you not feel like having sexual relations. In fact, sexual intercourse can increase the irritation in your urinary tract. However, UTIs are not contagious: you cannot catch a urinary tract infection from another person. So the short answer is, yes, it is safe to have sex when you have a UTI, but it may not be comfortable.
According to the World Health Organization, urinary tract infections affect an estimated 50 percent of women at some point during their lifetime. Although sexual activity is one of the main factors in the development of these infections, a number of lifestyle and natural supplements can be effective in preventing and managing them. The PACs in cranberries are among the most effective strategies in maintaining urinary tract health.