UTI's Not So Sexy

Does it sometimes seem that you get a urinary tract infection (UTI) every single time you have sex? It's no surprise: around 75% of all urinary tract infections in women occur as a direct result of engaging in sexual intercourse. This is according to Nicolette Horbach, MD., who is an associate clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington University.

Urinary tract infections are as common as mud and generate around 8 million doctor visits annually. Four in every five women who get a UTI will get another one during the next year and a half. But take heart: this has nothing to do with your hygiene.

The newest research shows that women who have recurrent or frequent UTI's have a certain type of bladder cells that act like magnets for bacteria. These cells attract and hold onto UTI-causing bacteria. But there are other factors. Pregnancy, for instance, changes a woman's anatomy so that bacteria have an easier entry to the bladder, while the accompanying hormone surges of gestation also make a woman more prone to UTI's.

Delicate Tissues

But back to sex: it seems that sex brings on UTI's because the back-and-forth movements of sex rub the bacteria from your anus into your bladder. If you've just had a baby you're at even greater risk for sex-caused UTI's because the trauma of childbirth and the dryer vaginal environment brought on by the hormones of lactation make your tissues more susceptible to irritation subsequent infection. There is also a type of UTI called "honeymoon cystitis" that comes from having frequent sex within a short span of time. This can be very stressful for a woman's delicate tissues.

Of course, there are ways to prevent these infections. For one thing, make sure you use lots of lubrication if vaginal dryness is an issue. This will prevent irritation. If over-the-counter lubricants don't do the trick, talk to your doctor about a prescription for estrogen cream which can help restore your natural lubrication and give relief from irritation.

Make sure you urinate before and after you have sex, too. Dr. Horbach says that you don't have to run to the toilet as soon as you're done making love, but you should try to urinate within half an hour after sex. This should help wash out any bacteria that may have made their way into your urethra or bladder during the sex act.

Wiping Method

It's also important to wipe yourself after urination from front to back. This may seem counterintuitive, but it's the best method of all for preventing anal bacteria from being rubbed into your urethra.

If you've had more than three UTI's in the span of one year, it's time to speak to your physician about using prophylactic antibiotic treatment. This may mean taking antibiotics for a full year while your bladder is recovering; or it may mean taking just one dose of antibiotics just before or after sex. For some women, this last measure is what finally does the trick.

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