It’s often assumed sex causes urinary tract infections.
A UTI, as it is commonly called, is when any part of your urinary system becomes infected. The most common infection occurs to the lower urinary tract, usually the bladder and urethra. This can be painful and annoying, and usually requires antibiotics to kill the bacteria that causes the infection.1
But sex is not the only cause of UTIs. How do you get a UTI without being sexually active? There are plenty of ways, and some steps you can take to try and avoid getting one.
What Are The Signs of a UTI
If you have a UTI, you may not have any symptoms. But the typical signs of a UTI include:1
- An urge to pee that doesn’t go away
- A burning feeling when you pee
- Urinating often
- Passing small amounts of urine
- Urine that looks cloudy, red, bright pink or cola-colored, or is strong smelling
- Pelvic pain
How Do You Get a UTI
It’s true that UTIs are most common among sexually active women. But they are common among all women, as approximately 50% of women will develop a UTI in their lifetime. Up to a quarter will experience UTI recurrence.2
Sex creates the risk of a UTI because it causes a woman’s urethra to come in contact with bacteria from the genitals and anus. That bacteria can travel up into the urinary system and possibly cause an infection.3
UTIs are not a type of sexually transmitted infection, however, so they are not passed from person to person through sexual contact. UTIs are caused by foreign bacteria that enter the urinary tract system.4
Women are at a greater risk mostly due to our anatomy. We have a shorter urethra than men, so there is less distance for bacteria to travel to reach the bladder. Once we reach menopause, a decline in estrogen causes changes in the urinary tract that can also increase the risk of UTIs.1
Here are other ways to get a UTI:
- Certain types of birth control, such as diaphragms or spermicidal agents can increase risk.1
- Dehydration, which leaves bacteria to grow uninhibited in the urinary tract; staying hydrated and urinating more often flushes out the bacteria.2
- Holding urine in, as the longer urine sits in the bladder, the longer bacteria have to grow in the urinary tract.2
- Too much sugar in your diet, which can lead to a spike in blood sugar and cause the kidneys to process sugar into the urine. That sugar is a food source for bacteria to thrive in the urinary tract.2
- Being pregnant, as hormonal changes cause the bladder muscle to relax, which delays urination; pregnant women also have a decreased ability to fight off infections in general.2
How Can You Prevent a UTI
Once you have a UTI, you should see a doctor for an effective treatment. But there are some steps you can take as prevention.
If you are sexually active, empty your bladder soon after having sex, and drink a full glass of water to help flush bacteria. That’s true throughout the day, as drinking water helps dilute your urine, and helps you pee more often, flushing any bacteria from your urinary tract.1
When you go to the bathroom, wipe from front to back, to help prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus to the vagina and urethra.1
Avoid irritating feminine products like deodorant sprays, douches and powders, and change your birth control method if you’re using diaphragms, unlubricated condoms or condoms treated with spermicide, as they can contribute to bacterial growth.1
While studies aren’t conclusive, some suggest drinking cranberry juice to prevent UTIs. It certainly can’t hurt.1
See a Doctor
If you suspect you have a UTI, or you have any of the symptoms, contact your health care provider to make an appointment. While infections are typically limited to the bladder, serious health problems can result if a UTI spreads to the kidneys.1 Use our Physician Finder to find a doctor near you with expertise in women’s health, who can treat your UTI infection before it gets worse.