What you need to know about your girlfriend's UTI
First of all, welcome! Kudos to YOU for being interested and concerned about the wellbeing of your girlfriend / life-partner / lover / ‘friend-sort-of-thing’.
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, can be scary and confusing when you’re suffering through one, but also when you’re witnessing your partner go through it. The pain and passive (or full on) aggressive anger. We’ve heard of UTIs mistakenly ending relationships in some cases, or just endless frustration, tension, and those ooooh-so-awkward conversations.
But never fear, the Mingo team is here! We’ve put together this handy cheat sheet with the most common questions guys and girls have about UTIs and what’s going on with their special friend.
A good place to start…
A urinary tract infection is an infection caused by bacteria somewhere in the urinary tract. The urinary tract is tubing that runs from where the pee comes out all the way to our kidneys, where pee collects. Common bacteria – especially E. coli – can find its way into the urinary tract lots of different ways. Then if the immune system can’t fight it, the bacteria does its evil bacteria thing, grabbing hold and multiplying, causing the body to react with increasingly dreadful symptoms that you may or may not have been exposed to.
The simplicity of this is the key here. What matters is that this is about bacteria getting into the urinary tract and causing an infection. The rest of this cheat sheet will get into more detail on all this, and we find we’re often spending time explaining what a UTI is NOT, so if you get this main part, you’re already doing better than most people out there!
It’s important to start this answer with a key fact: that 50-60% of adult women will get a UTI at some point in their lives, and a bunch of men too (1). There’s nothing wrong with her (or you!), it’s just part of having a urinary tract.
The main reason why you hear about girls getting UTIs and not guys is anatomy. If you’re a guy, you have your own urinary tract extender. (Yes, if you can believe it, this is yet another reason why your penis is great). Bacteria can still get in there, but it has to work harder to get far enough to cause an issue. This becomes more of a problem when guys get older and prostates enlarge, but when you’re young, the risk of infection isn’t really comparable to us girls.
Finally, once she’s had one infection, it’s more likely that she’ll get another. Recurring or frequent UTIs (2 infections in 6 months, or 3+ in 12 months) affect 25% of women with a history of UTIs (1).
The initial infection makes it easier for another infection to take place – the urinary tract is already more irritable and hospitable to bacteria. So it’s not that she’s less healthy, or less hygienic, but her body is naturally struggling to go to battle with offending bacteria.
Bacteria in the urinary tract causes UTIs. And yes, sex can cause bacteria to get in the urinary tract. It is the highest risk factor for sure with almost 80% of cases linked back to the otherwise super-awesome deed. You can read more about sex stuff here. But sex does not DIRECTLY CAUSE urinary tract infections though it does tend to transfer the bacteria where they don’t belong.
Basically, sex is a glorious swirl of bodies and wetness and fun. It also takes places RIGHT NEXT TO THE URETHRA. So if there’s bacteria in the swirl (which there probably is), there’s bacteria around the urethra.
There’s also some fun sex stuff that increases the risk of bacteria getting involved. You can use your imagination on that, but suffice to say that poo has E. coli in it so keep it fresh down there!
Sex-related factors like increased frequency of sex (I’m talking to you Spring Break), or new positions), can boost the chance that bacteria will get involved. Also, certain spermicides can irritate some girls creating a more hospitable environment for bacteria. Definitely, there are ways to reduce the risk of UTIs associated with sex. Check out our list here.
Nope! UTIs are not contagious. This isn’t one of those, ‘I’m a carrier, but never showed symptoms’ nightmare-disease-thing that you’ve been warned about by your friends.
But were you a contributing factor? Maybe! And so was she. And really it was the bacteria if anyone deserves blame. That lame, pesky, ugly bacteria. This is really important.
Remeber that some women are more prone than others to develop urinary infections after sex. This is particularly true with vigorous or frequent sex (yup the good stuff). Or sex with a new partner. This is likely caused by irritation at the opening of the urethra, which sits at the front upper end of the vulva (outer portion or "lips" of a woman's reproductive organs).
In these situations, it can be helpful to change sexual positions, ensure adequate hygiene, and take Mingo immediately before or after sex.
On top of that, there are often a lot of other contributing factors at play. Maybe you two were up late (immune system weakened), drinking (dehydration means bacteria isn’t getting flushed out), maybe you sweat it out on the dance floor together (remember the swirl?), and barely made it in the door of your apartment before banging it out like the crazy animals you are and passing out with your socks still on (peeing after sex helps flush out the bacteria). And adding to all THAT, maybe she had a UTI when she was younger for all sorts of reasons that kids get UTIs, increasing her chance of getting another one. All of these things could add up to tingling sensations, fear, panic, and a doctor’s visit.
Ahh, the age-old question: CUT VS UNCUT. Enter UTIs.
Although there isn't any solid data showing a difference in circumcised vs uncircumcised males when it comes to female UTI risk, anecdotally I have come across several cases where women have found uncircumcised males promoted UTIs more often than uncut males. I want to point out that just because a guy is uncut DOES NOT mean he has a less hygienic penis or that this plays a large role in UTI development for female sexual partners.
That being said, it is known that circumcision can make it easier to keep the end of the penis (and the opening of the urethra) clean which may hypothetically lead to a decreased risk in UTI development in female sexual partners. Cleanliness takes a little extra effort (ie rolling back the foreskin and soaping up), but even then, "the uncircumcised foreskin has certain cells that bacteria can attach to," says Harry Fisch, M.D., author of The New Naked.
What we DO know is that studies have shown that circumcised men have a lower risk of certain sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, and protection against penile cancer and a reduced risk of cervical cancer in female sex partners. (Obvi that doesn't mean you don't need to have safe sex with a circumcised guy! Always practice safe sex!)
On the other hand, data has shown that uncircumcised boys have a 12-fold higher risk of getting a urinary tract infection, compared to those who have had their foreskins removed.
I'd also like to point out that anecdotally I've also known several women to be more prone to UTIs with some partners and not others (myself included). This can be due to cut vs uncut, different natural floras, where/when/how you're having sex, and a couple other factors. Just remember SEX and/or penises don't CAUSE UTIs but they play a part in the spread of bacteria leading to an infection.
You can... but it's unlikely if you are a young adult male.
Only 20% of diagnosed urinary tract infections occur in men. Urinary tract infections are extremely rare in young men and are much more common in men after the age of 50. Older men are more likely to develop UTIs than younger men because men over 50 are also at a higher risk for an enlarged prostate, diabetes, and kidney stones. Being at greater risk for an enlarged prostate means the prostate gland can choke off the bladder neck, making it harder for urine to flow freely. If the bladder doesn’t empty completely, bacteria that are normally flushed out with the urine might opportunistically attack, nest, and spread! (GRRR!)
IMPORTANT NOTE: If you have symptoms that seem like a UTI as a young adult male you should be tested immediately for STI's. Go pop-in to your nearest walk-in, sexual health clinic, or family doctor to get checked.
Step 1: Educate yourself (since you're already here doing that, well done!)
Step 2: Be understanding and comfortable talking about UTIs with your partner. Just being that guy or girl who doesn’t get freaked can be a huge relief. Talk openly about the situation and consider ways you two can reduce the risk together. Making it clear that you don’t think anything is wrong with her and just want her to not be in pain can be a huge help. And seriously, we’re talking PAIN. Like pissing razor blades every 20 minutes. It sucks.
Step 3: CHILL. It’s probably worth backing off the sexual advances for a bit. She’s just had irritation and inflammation in the worst place ever and she is at risk of reinfection. She shouldn’t feel badly about turning you down too. Trust me nothing makes you feel less sexy than a raging UTI.
Step 4: If she needs you to, drive her to the doctor to get a urinalysis done and see if antibiotics are necessary... then make her a nice dinner. She’s in healing mode now! Unfortunately, antibiotics may still be the only treatment for a full-blown UTI.
Step 5: After the UTI battle has been fought off and won, get that girl some MINGO and continue making sweet, sweet love.
This is the key to this whole UTI thing. Once she’s had one infection, she’s more likely to get another, and unfortunately this keeps escalating. AND once she gets a bad infection, only antibiotics can help, and antibiotics are scary!
So this becomes all about prevention. Here are the Top 3 things you can do to help prevent another UTI:
Questions? Comments? Collaboration ideas? Let's chat!
(1) Epp, Annette, Larochelle, Annick. "Recurrent Urinary Tract Infection." Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. Volume 32, Issue 11 (2010), 1082 - 1090.