The SHE corner is a biweekly forum in which Wellesley College Sexual Health Educators answer the campus’s burning questions about sex, sexuality, menstruation and general reproductive health concerns.
What is a UTI, and how do I know if I have one?
We get this question all the time! About one in five people with vaginas will experience a uniary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime, so it is an extremely common issue. That means at Wellesley, almost 500 students will experience a UTI at some point in their lives. A UTI is an infection somewhere in the urinary system. The infection can be located in the bladder, urethra or anywhere in between. Although everyone is different, common symptoms include a burning pain during urination, an urge to urinate or continue urinating even if your bladder is empty, difficulty controlling urination, or more seriously, lower abdominal or back pain, blood or pus in urine, or fever. UTIs are caused by bacteria entering the urethra, often during sex play but also from toilet backsplash or careless wiping. People with vaginas are more likely than people with penises to get UTIs because their urethras are shorter and located closer to their anus, making it easier for bacteria to get in contact with and infect the urinary tract.
If you have symptoms of a UTI, it is important that you go to a medical professional such as your medical doctor, Health Services or Planned Parenthood. Although UTIs are common and easily treated, if left untreated, the infection can migrate into your kidneys, which is when you may experience the more serious symptoms listed above. Additionally, there are some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can mimic the symptoms of UTIs. Your medical professional should be sure to give you the correct tests. For UTIs and many common STIs, this will be a simple urine test.
If you do have a UTI, your medical professional will likely prescribe you an antibiotic to kill the infection and may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever to help manage any pain you may be experiencing. As always, be sure to finish the entire course of antibiotics even if you aren’t having symptoms anymore in order to prevent the UTI from coming back.
In the future, there are many things you can do to try and prevent UTIs. Even if you haven’t had a UTI before, always make sure that you are hydrating properly, as drinking lots of water keeps your urinary tract healthy. Keep your vulva clean and dry and always wipe from front to back. Drink cranberry juice or take cranberry supplements, as an acid in cranberries can help prevent bacteria from growing. Urinate immediately before and after penetrative intercourse, and any other time throughout the day when you feel the urge to urinate.
Be sure that sexual activity moves from vagina to anus and not the other way around. Anything used for penetration should be washed thoroughly before moving from the anus to the vagina, and ideally a barrier method should be used for each sexual act. Your friendly neighborhood SHE should have a variety of barrier methods on their doors, including internal and external condoms, dental dams, gloves and finger cots.
For more information, check out plannedparenthood.org, your medical professional or talk to a SHE!
Photo courtesy of Wellesley SHEs