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Being sexually active is one of the most common risk factors for urinary tract infections (UTIs) in women. Understanding why is the first step toward taking preventative measures to lower the likelihood of recurrent urinary infections.

Why does sex cause UTIs?

Most urinary tract infections occur when bacteria gets inside the urethra. Escherichia coli, or E. coli, is responsible for roughly 90 percent of UTIs. This bacteria is harmless inside of the intestines and is often present in stool. However, if bacteria travels from the anus to the urethra, it can trigger an infection. During sexual intercourse, friction and pressure can force bacteria present in or around the genital area toward the urethra, and given the right conditions,bacteria can grow and give rise to a UTI.

Can birth control cause UTIs?

Some types of birth control may increase the risk of developing UTIs. Multiple studies have shown that the use of diaphragms can make UTIs more likely, and the risk increases when spermicide is used with a diaphragm. In addition, personal lubricants and condoms that contain spermicide can also increase the risk for infection.

What you can do to prevent UTIs

Although it’s impossible to entirely prevent UTIs, utilizing the following preventive measures can make them less likely to develop::

1. Urinate after intercourse

When you urinate, you flush bacteria out of your bladder and urethra. Going soon after sex may help to clear out any bacteria that’s made its way into your urinary tract. Urinating immediately before sex may also be beneficial (how so?)

2. Practice post-intercourse hygiene

After intercourse, cleanse your vaginal area with mild soap and water as soon as possible. Avoid using feminine washes that contain perfumes as they may irritate your urethra and increase risk for a UTI. Avoid using douches, which have been linked to both UTIs and vaginal infections.

3. Consider changing your birth control

If you use a diaphragm, consider exploring other contraceptive options. Steer clear of condoms and lubricants that contain spermicide.

4. Support urine production, and use the bathroom when you need to

Drinking six to eight, 8-oz. glasses of water per day helps ensure that your kidneys have enough fluid to produce an adequate supply of urine to flush bacteria from your body. When you get the urge to urinate, use the bathroom as soon as you can. Holding your urine can allow bacteria to multiply.

5. Avoid tight-fitting clothing, and wear the right underwear

If you’re prone to UTIs, tight clothing may irritate your urethra and worsen the problem. Wearing cotton underwear may also cut down on infection risk as  natural fibers promote airflow to reduce moisture, making your genital area less hospitable to bacteria.

How Forward can help you manage recurring UTIs

By providing one-on-one, personalized care, Forward can prescribe medications to treat an existing UTI and put you on the path to fewer infections in the future. As your primary care provider, we focus on prevention and will explore all of your risk factors for urinary tract infections. We will work with you to help you implement lifestyle changes and adopt new habits that may make UTIs less likely to occur in the future.

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