Urinary tract infections (UTIs) rank right up there with yeast infections as some of the most acutely uncomfortable conditions that can affect a person with a vagina. So it makes sense that while in the throes of your UTI, you may have zero desire to have sex. After all, when your urethra feels like it's on fire and you're crying because it hurts so bad to pee out a mere trickle of urine, the old libido tends to fizzle. But if you're feeling it, is it safe to have sex during a UTI?
Yes, you can have sex during a UTI.
"Yes, you can still have sex with a UTI," says board-certified OB/GYN Lakeisha Richardson. Sex will likely not make your UTI worse, but it may be painful or uncomfortable until you have completed treatment. Experts generally recommend not having sex with a UTI until you truly feel up for it.
"It's better to refrain from intercourse when you have a UTI because the penis can rub against the urethra, irritating it more," says functional medicine gynecologist Wendie Trubow, M.D. The same is true for tongues, toys, and fingers coming into contact with the vulva or vagina. "It shouldn't make the infection worse, especially if the woman urinates after intercourse, but it may worsen the symptoms."
You only really need to hold off if you're experiencing bloody urine or suprapubic (lower abdominal) pain, in which case you should see a doc ASAP, adds Richardson.
Risks of having sex during a UTI:
It may cause pain or irritation.
Having sex during a UTI may cause pain or irritation because of how close the urethra is to the clitoris and vagina. Your partner's penis, fingers, or tongue may inadvertently rub against the urethra, causing irritation.
It may trigger a new infection.
Whenever you have sex, there's always some chance that you'll introduce new bacteria into the urethra. If that happens when you already have a UTI, you could potentially trigger a new infection, which prolongs your overall recovery time.
You can pass the UTI to your partner.
UTIs are not a sexually transmitted infection, but it's possible to pass the bacteria that cause the infection (such as E. coli) to your partner. For example, a person with a penis may rub their penis against their partner's urethra, moving the bacteria around and potentially putting himself at risk of infection. That said, it's not common for men to get a UTI1. About 3% of men get UTIs each year.
How long should you wait to have sex after a UTI?
You can have sex during a UTI as long as you and your partner are comfortable with it, so there's no set amount of time you need to wait to start having sex. But experts suggest waiting until symptoms have cleared: "I typically recommend waiting until the woman feels better before having intercourse. Often it's within a few days of starting treatment," says Trubow.
Safer ways to have sex with a UTI.
If you're going to have sex with a UTI, Trubow says try certain sex positions that will cause less friction on the urethra, like doggy-style, potentially making things more enjoyable.
Anal sex might also be a more pleasurable option because it lowers the risk of contact with the urethra. You can also explore other forms of sexual touch that don't involve the vulva area, including giving oral sex to your partner but not receiving it.
Just make sure to pee before and after having sex to flush out as much of the bacteria from the urethra as possible, and take breaks during sex if you feel the need to pee.
How to avoid another UTI.
UTIs are caused by bacteria (often E. coli) from the gastrointestinal tract entering the urethra and multiplying, and they can develop anywhere in the urinary tract—from the urethra to the bladder to the kidneys. Symptoms often include an extreme burning sensation when you pee and intense urges to pee even when you have little urine to pass. They can affect people of all genders, but they're much more common among women.
According to some reports, between 25 and 42%2 of the time, the body can resolve a minor UTI on its own (drinking lots of water helps), but other times you may need a dose of antibiotics. Untreated, UTIs can turn into painful and dangerous kidney infections, so you should head to the doc if you suspect you have one.
To prevent UTIs, Trubow recommends:
- Urinating promptly after intercourse, which helps flush out the urethra and minimize risk of infection
- Avoiding positions that increase friction on the urethra (legs over your partner's shoulders, for example)
- Staying well hydrated, as urinating helps flush the urethra regularly
- Avoiding excess sugar and refined carbs (bacteria love sugar)
These precautions are particularly important for people who deal with recurring UTIs. Richardson adds that it also may be helpful to take a daily probiotic specifically formulated with vaginal health in mind that contains two strains of lactobacillus. These will help balance yeast and bacteria and maintain healthy vaginal flora.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).