The 101 on UTIs: 7 ways to avoid ‘em like the plague
If you’ve never had a urinary tract infection (UTI), count yourself extremely fortunate. Personally, my twenties were marred by the burning pain of UTIs until I learned more about how to avoid them successfully. Although these horribly distracting infections can affect anybody, women are more prone (because we just can’t catch a freakin’ break). Just kidding. Self-knowledge is power, y’all.
What exactly is a UTI and how do you get one?
Fact: a woman’s urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the bladder), is shorter than a man’s, which makes it easier for bacteria to enter and multiply. Women are 10 times more likely than men to get a urinary tract infection, and one in five women will have a UTI at some point. UTIs can spread to other parts of your urinary tract, including your bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Fun fact: they don’t even always cause symptoms, but when they do, watch out. They can cause burning (hellfire) when you pee, a frequent need to pee without much (if any) coming out, lower abdominal cramping, lower back pain, and pelvic pain. A UTI can also make your urine cloudy, strong-smelling, or even a different color (like red, pink, or brownish due to blood). Lovely, am I right?
Even though I am totally one of those people that always prefers to treat things naturally, and I do tend to avoid doctors and the antibiotics they prescribe at all costs, UTIs are one of the few conditions I have always seen a doctor for, because in my experience, they don’t respond too quickly to home remedies (cranberry juice is not all it's cracked up to be), and if it gets really bad, you could end up with a kidney infection, which is potentially dangerous. So, even though antibiotics just might cause a yeast infection in place of your UTI, you may want to just treat the thing if you have one- and then focus on stellar prevention moving forward.
Ok, so now that we’re all clear on what needs avoiding, here are 7 ways to avoid getting a UTI in the first place.
1. Pee after sex
This is the single most important piece of advice I was ever given, as my UTIs always coincided with sex. Penetrative sex can push bacteria up around your urethra, so peeing afterward can help flush it out, and keep potentially harmful bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract, thereby lowering your risk of a UTI. The stronger your stream of pee, the greater success your body has of banishing bacteria from the urinary tract. Even if you don’t have to pee after sex, even if it’s just a few drops, make it happen. You can always rush back into bed for a cuddle post-pee.
2. Drink a lot of water
On that note, making sure you do have to pee after sex by staying well-hydrated at all times is a good idea. When you fill your bladder, your pee is more forceful and more frequent, and so is the flushing out of bacteria. One study found that low urine output was associated with an increased risk of UTIs. Another study found that an increase in fluid intake can lead to a decrease in UTI frequency. On average, women need 11.5 cups of fluids per day for optimal health. Most important thing here is to listen to your body’s cues. The color of your urine gives you valuable info about your health, for example: if you notice your pee is amber, brown, or orange, you’re likely dehydrated!
3. Don't hold your pee in
It’s a busy life, I get it. But when nature calls, heed your nature, damnit. When urine stays in your bladder for too long, it gives bacteria a golden opportunity to flourish and potentially cause infection. It can’t be stressed enough: by emptying your bladder as completely as you can, you’re washing out any bacteria that has been pushed into your lower urinary tract. While most women can hold their pee in for three to six hours (depending how much they drink), the reality is that holding your pee in puts you at a greater risk of developing a UTI.
4. Wipe from front to back
Here’s another glam factoid: the opening of your urethra is pretty up close and personal with your anus, and the gastrointestinal bacteria found there can migrate from one home to another fairly easily. In other words, if you wipe from back to front (even while avoiding your butt altogether), that bacteria can be transported to your urethra, where it might cause an infection. Same logic when it comes to anal play, or anal sex: don’t allow your partner to put anything that was just in your ass into your vagina without washing first. Respect the poetry of it all.
Probiotics are beneficial microorganisms available in supplement form or can be found in fermented foods like kefir, kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, and probiotic yogurt. The use of probiotics has been connected to everything from improved digestion, to a stronger immune system, to a decreased risk of UTIs. And if you do end up having to take antibiotics to treat a UTI, taking probiotics can help restore gut bacteria afterward and potentially prevent a yeast infection from occurring.
6. Natural hygiene
Scented powders, douches, and certain menstrual pads can irritate your urethra, increasing your susceptibility to a UTI. Avoid douching altogether, as it can throw off your vagina’s pH, which makes you more susceptible to infections more generally. Your vagina self-cleanses by regularly expelling discharge, so contrary to what some say, it really doesn’t need flower-scented help on this one. And your vulva should be good with water, plain and simple, or, a mild, fragrance-free soap.
7. Your safe sex strategy
Unlubricated and spermicide-treated condoms can irritate your vagina and increase the likelihood of big bad bacteria taking up residence in your urethra. And diaphragms might also increase your UTI risk—while they aren’t that popular anymore, a new version did cause a fuss in 2015, so this may still be relevant to keep in mind! Specifically, the ring of a diaphragm can put internal pressure on your urethra and even partly block it, making it harder to totally empty your bladder, which, as we’ve learned, allows bacteria to loiter about and possibly morph into an infection.
Bottom line: if you’re susceptible to UTIs, your first line of defense is staying well hydrated and peeing after sex. Staying as healthy as possible by listening to your body and practicing hygiene that respects the reality of your anatomy should take care of the rest!