A urinary tract infection (UTI) can be painful enough to cause a temporary loss of interest in sex. Once the infection starts to clear up, however, some people wonder if it is safe to have sex again.
Doctors usually recommend avoiding sex until the infection has cleared up completely. This is because having sex may irritate the urinary tract and can push bacteria into the urethra, worsening the infection.
This article looks at the safety and risks of sex when a person has a UTI, including whether the infection is contagious and tips for keeping safe.
A UTI is a bacterial infection. They happen when bacteria — often from the anus, dirty hands, or skin — get into the urethra and travel to the bladder or other parts of the urinary tract.
UTIs are not sexually transmitted and are not contagious. This means that people with a UTI will not pass on a UTI to their partner. In most cases, the sexual partners of a person with a UTI will not need treatment.
However, there are several risks of having sex when a person has a UTI.
When someone has a UTI, having sex can cause pain and may irritate a sensitive urethra. In females, pressure on the internal walls of the vagina may also put pressure on the bladder, intensifying the pain of a UTI.
Sex can also force bacteria from other places around the genital area into the urethra. For many people — especially females — frequent sex is a significant risk factor for developing a UTI. This is because having sex while the infection is still present increases the risk of introducing more bacteria into the urinary tract. This can make the infection worse and slow down healing.
It is a myth that wearing a condom or avoiding penetrative sex in favor of oral or manual sex is safe when a person has a UTI. This is because UTIs are not sexually transmitted, and one partner does not spread the bacteria to the other. Instead, sex increases the risk of UTIs by introducing bacteria into the urethra.
Any genital contact can introduce bacteria into the urethra, with or without a condom or penetration. So, to minimize risks, people should avoid all forms of sex until symptoms are gone.
UTIs are more common in females than in males. This is because a female's urinary tract is shorter than a male's, making it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder.
Additionally, the urethra is closer to the anus, which enables bacteria from the anus to travel up the urinary tract, potentially causing an infection.
Penetrative sex can further increase these risks by forcing bacteria into the urethra.
There is no safe way to have sex with a UTI, but some simple strategies during sexual activity can reduce the risk of future UTIs:
- Urinate before and after sex to flush out bacteria.
- Avoid sexual practices that can spread bacteria from the anus to the vagina or urethra. People who have anal sex should use a condom and should change condoms after penetrating the anus and before penetrating any other body part.
- Wipe front to back after urinating or having a bowel movement since this can prevent the spread of bacteria from the anus.
- Drink plenty of water to help clean the urinary tract. The risk of a UTI is higher when a person is dehydrated.
- Ask a doctor about alternatives to barrier methods. Some people with allergies to condoms, diaphragms, or other barrier methods get frequent UTIs.
- Consider taking a probiotic. A small number of clinical trials suggest that probiotics may prevent dangerous bacteria from growing out of control.
- Wash hands before manually stimulating a partner. This will not prevent UTIs entirely but can reduce the risk of accidentally introducing bacteria into the urethra.
- Wash hands after touching a partner's anus or other body parts.
Try slowing down sexual activity for a few days after recovering from a UTI. If having sex with a new partner, gradually increase the rate of sexual activity, especially if there is a history of recurrent or severe UTIs.
Bacteria can cause a UTI when they get into the urethra. The germs can infect just the urethra or travel into the bladder or kidneys.
Left untreated, severe UTIs can enter the bloodstream or other organs, causing severe illness and even death.
Home remedies sometimes offer temporary relief from UTIs. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication may also help, but it will not kill the bacteria or treat the underlying infection. So see a doctor for symptoms of a UTI, which can include:
- pain when urinating
- intense bladder pain
- a need to urinate but being unable to do so or to empty the bladder fully
- frequent intense urges to use the bathroom
- foul smelling urine or blood in the urine
- pain or cramping in the stomach or groin
When a UTI spreads to the kidneys, it may cause the following symptoms:
A person undergoing UTI treatment should see a doctor if:
- symptoms do not improve after a day or two of antibiotics
- symptoms suddenly get worse
- the pain is unbearable, travels to the back, or prevents sleep
- the person develops a high fever
- symptoms of a UTI get much worse after having sex
UTIs usually go away quickly with treatment. Sex can slow the healing process, though, and potentially even cause another infection.
Ask a doctor how long to wait before having intercourse, then wait at least that long. If there is still pain, wait until the pain has completely disappeared before having sex.