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Sex & UTI: What You Need to Know

Illustration of four feet in bed

Many people know that distinct burning sensation when you pee that indicates a urinary tract infection. It’s no fun, and it’s unfortunately pretty common — around half of women will experience at least one UTI in their lifetime. 

It’s also natural to wonder, does sex cause UTI? If so, how? And is there anything you can do to stop that from happening? We’re going to dive into the connection between sex and UTIs and what you can do to minimize your risk of getting one. 

Skip Ahead: What is a UTI? | Symptoms & Causes | Can You Get a UTI From Having Sex? | Prevent a UTI After Having Sex | Who is at Risk for Getting UTIs? | Can You Have Sex With a UTI? | How Soon After a UTI Can You Have Sex? | Treatment | When to See a Doctor

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection is pretty much what it sounds like — an infection in your urinary system. It’s typically caused by unwanted bacteria entering your urethra and triggering infection and inflammation in part of your urinary tract. 

Your body comes into contact with bacteria all the time (much of it is good for you and keeps all your internal processes running smoothly), but when bad bacteria gets involved, it’s bad news. The most common type of bacteria is E. coli, which is commonly found in your digestive system, and sometimes on your skin. 

UTI Symptoms & Causes

Here are some signs you might have a UTI:

  • Burning or stinging sensation during urination
  • Cloudy urine
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Unusually strong- or bad-smelling urine
  • A feeling of pressure or cramping in your lower abdomen

UTIs can be caused by a variety of things, including — yep, you guessed it — sex. Here are the most common causes:

  • Your genes. Some women are simply more prone to UTIs than others. (We know, ugh.) If someone in your immediate family gets frequent UTIs, you’re also more likely to get them. Studies have shown that this has to do with your body’s immune response to UTI-causing bacteria.  
  • Your age. Post-menopausal women are also at higher risk of developing UTIs. Urinary incontinence and estrogen deficiency play a role in UTI development for women in their middle-age to elderly years. 
  • Frequent sexual intercourse. Having a lot of sex, especially with a new partner or multiple partners, also ups your risk for UTIs. Why does sex cause UTI? When there’s a lot of movement and friction around your genital area, it ups the likelihood that bacteria from your rectum migrates to your urethra. This is a bummer, but we have some good news: there are things you can do to lower your risk of UTIs while still enjoying an active sex life. More on that later.
  • Hygiene issues. UTI risk also has to do with things like how often you change your underwear, which direction you wipe (front to back is the way to go), and whether or not you leave a pad or tampon on for too long. 
  • Use of spermicide. Couples who use spermicide as their go-to form of birth control, or use condoms coated in spermicide, may be increasing the woman’s risk of developing a UTI. This likely has to do with the effects of spermicide on your body’s good bacteria, which are crucially important to helping you fight off the bad bacteria and avoid infection.

Can You Get a UTI from Having Sex?

You sure can, but it’s not sex itself that is the culprit. A woman’s genital anatomy is set up so that her urethral area is located very close to her rectum — inconvenient, we know, but that’s what nature gave us to work with! 

When you’re having sex with another person or with yourself, it’s easy for bacteria from your anal area to end up in the wrong place.

What about men? Can they get UTIs from having sex? 

It’s much less common for men to get UTIs at all, due to the way their genital anatomy is situated. Bacteria from a man’s rectum is a lot less likely to make it all the way to his urethral opening. So while men do get UTIs sometimes, it’s usually due to genetics and immune issues rather than sexual activity or hygiene, though anal sex can increase the risk for male UTIs.  

How soon after sex can you get a UTI?

Usually it will take a few days for the bacteria to begin to irritate the area. If you’re having sex every day or every other day, it might be difficult to tell which specific sexual encounter caused the UTI. 

How To Prevent a UTI After Having Sex

To minimize the likelihood of bad bacteria entering your urethra, the easiest thing to do is to flush out the area naturally by urinating. Make it a habit to pee right away after every single sexual encounter involving your genital area, whether it’s masturbation or partner activity. 

Even if you’re just using a sex toy by yourself, this can increase the likelihood of bacteria getting where it’s not supposed to be. Make sure to clean your sex toys after every single use and to pee every time after using them.

The sooner you head to the bathroom after sex, the better — aim for within 15 to 30 minutes after the end of sexual activity. It may be unsexy and inconvenient, but it’s a super important practice for your health.

Research has shown that women who always urinate after sex have a lower likelihood of developing UTIs than women who rarely or sometimes do this. 

Do Some People have Higher Risk for Getting UTIs?

Some women just tend to get more UTIs than other women. The American Urological Association estimates that 20 to 40% of women who have had one UTI will get another one, and 25 to 50% of those women will end up having at least one more after that.

There are multiple reasons for this. Some women’s urethras are located closer to their vaginal and anal areas, making it more likely that sex would cause a UTI.

Studies have also investigated genetic factors related to your body’s immune response, lesions such as bladder stones, and hygienic habits. (After all, it’s hard to retrain the brain to practice different behaviors once you’re used to a certain routine.) 

If you’re dealing with recurrent UTIs, talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you get treatment ASAP and talk you through the different ways to prevent infection moving forward. 

Can You Have Sex With a UTI?

Technically yes — it’s unlikely to do any major damage — but it might not feel very good. 

If you’re dealing with a burning sensation around your urethra, adding friction probably doesn’t sound too appealing. 

Plus, the last thing you need is to move more bacteria to the affected area and up the risk of further inflammation, which could mess with your treatment plan. 

How Soon After a UTI Can You Have Sex?

It’s best to wait until the UTI has been treated to start having intercourse again. Your doctor will give you the green light about when that is, but it’s safe to assume it will be at least a week until you’ve finished your antibiotic regimen. 

Even if you no longer notice symptoms, try your best to refrain from sexual activity until you are fully cleared of infection and done with your treatment.

How to Treat a UTI

Healthcare providers typically prescribe antibiotics to treat UTIs. They’ll also recommend you drink plenty of fluids to help flush out your urinary tract. 

Some people swear by home remedies like cranberry juice to cure a UTI — and many mild UTIs go away on their own within a week — but your most reliable bet is to seek out a medical professional.

For simple infections, treatment can be prescribed through telehealth, but if the infection becomes more advanced or severe, you may need to see a provider in person.  No home remedy has been proven to be as effective as antibiotics for clearing up a UTI.

When to See a Doctor

People dealing with serious symptoms or recurrent UTIs should book an appointment to see a provider. They can talk with you about your sexual history, hygiene habits, and symptom severity to determine the best course of treatment and a UTI prevention plan moving forward. 

Don’t wait until your symptoms get really bad to call your provider. Untreated UTIs can eventually turn into kidney infections, causing symptoms like:

  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Back pain

If you think you might have a kidney infection, seek medical help right away to avoid permanent damage to the area. Kidney infections require antibiotic treatment and sometimes a trip to the hospital when severe. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable UTI treatment with the K Health app? Download K to check your symptoms using our AI-driven symptom checker and, if needed, text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s board-certified, U.S.-based doctors can provide a treatment plan and prescription to resolve your symptoms as soon as possible.

Sarah Malka, MD

Dr. Sarah Malka is a board certified emergency medicine physician with K Health. She completed her residency at Harvard Medical School.