Sexual intercourse does not directly cause urinary tract infections (UTIs), but it can increase the likelihood. Urinating before and after sex may lower this risk.

There are many ways to reduce the odds of developing a UTI, including staying hydrated and boosting personal hygiene.

In this article, we investigate what a UTI is, what the risk factors are, and how to reduce the risk. We also explore the relationship between urinating and these infections.

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A UTI is an infection of the urinary tract, which includes the urethra, the bladder, the kidneys, and the ureters, which are tubes that bring urine from the kidneys to the bladder. UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract.

These infections occur when bacteria enter the urinary system. They are more common in females, and risk factors include:

  • a history of UTIs
  • being sexually active
  • the use of spermicides
  • having entered menopause
  • age — younger and older people are more likely to develop UTIs
  • pregnancy
  • diabetes
  • obesity
  • structural abnormalities of the urinary tract
  • difficulty with hygiene

Symptoms of a UTI can include:

  • painful urination
  • a burning sensation while urinating
  • frequent urination
  • low urine volume, even when the urge to urinate is strong
  • blood in the urine
  • cramping or pressure in the lower abdomen
  • foul-smelling urine

Sexual intercourse can increase the likelihood of a UTI developing. However, UTIs are not a type of sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Bacteria in the genital or anal region can enter the urethra during sex if a person does not wash their hands between touching the anus and genitals.

Also, sex toys can pass bacteria in this way if a person does not clean them correctly between uses.

In addition, some STIs, such as chlamydia, can cause UTIs. However, UTIs do not pass from person to person through sex, like STIs do.

A person does not need to be sexually active to get a UTI. And if a partner has a UTI, it does not show that they have been having sex with other people.

Experts debate whether urinating after sex helps prevent UTIs.

Many health authorities, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), recommend urinating after sex to prevent UTIs. Doing so may help flush away bacteria that are close to the urethra and prevent them from entering the urinary tract.

However, research published in a 2016 edition of American Family Physician suggests that urinating after sex does not have any measurable protective effects. Still, the researchers note, it is a safe and reasonable thing to do.

Some other ways to prevent UTIs include:

  • urinating whenever the urge strikes — not holding it in
  • staying hydrated
  • having good hygiene
  • using barrier protection, such as condoms, during sexual intercourse, especially during anal sex
  • thoroughly cleaning sex toys
  • wiping from front to back
  • avoiding douching
  • using menstrual pads instead of tampons

If a person feels a frequent need to urinate, they may have a UTI. However, many other issues can have this effect.

Other causes of frequent urination include:

Some people get UTI symptoms frequently. This can result from IC, a chronic condition that causes pressure and pain in the bladder region.

IC results from inflammation, which sometimes occurs due to an autoimmune response in the bladder. This means that the body is mistakenly attacking its own cells.

In some people, the symptoms of IC come and go. Because the symptoms can resemble those of other conditions, IC can be difficult to diagnose. Treatment typically involves symptom management.

IC is not the only health issue that can resemble a UTI — some STIs have similar symptoms to UTIs.

Contact a doctor if symptoms of a UTI arise. They can confirm the diagnosis and prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection and keep it from spreading.

A UTI that progresses to the kidneys requires immediate medical attention. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • a fever and chills
  • back pain, often in the lower back
  • nausea
  • vomiting

If a suspected UTI causes any of these symptoms, seek medical guidance right away.

Anyone with persistent or reoccurring UTI symptoms should undergo an assessment for an underlying condition, such as IC. The doctor may also test for STIs.

UTIs are common and sometimes result from sex. For example, touching the anus then the genitals during sex can spread bacteria that then infect the urinary tract.

UTIs are not STIs — they do not pass from person to person during sex.

Urinating after sex is not a guaranteed way to prevent an infection, but it may help eliminate any bacteria around the urethra that have accumulated during sexual intercourse.

There are a variety of other ways to develop a UTI. Additional prevention strategies include using barrier protection during sex, keeping the hands, genitals, and any sex toys clean, and staying hydrated.