They affect almost half of women—but they’re not inevitable.
Once you hear how many women get stuck with a urinary tract infection (UTI) in their lifetime, it might feel like there’s no escape. About 40 to 60 percent of women experience at least one UTI, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Men get them, too, but women get them way more often—a whopping 30 times more often, to be exact. (How unfair is that?) That’s because women have a shorter urethra, the tube that leads to the bladder. A shorter urethra means it’s easier for bacteria to sneak up to the bladder, multiply, and cause an infection.
Some people mistakenly think that a UTI is a sexually transmitted disease, but in reality, you can catch one of these infections even if you’re not having sex. While sex can transfer bacteria that may lead to a UTI, these infections are not STDs.
UTIs may be common and are nothing to be ashamed about, but UTI symptoms are definitely unpleasant and—if left untreated—the infection can spread to the kidneys and cause more serious complications. Here are ways experts have found can prevent a UTI.
Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water has many health benefits, one of which is flushing out the bladder to help prevent bacteria growth.
Wash up “down there.” Sudsing up your genitals with gentle soap and warm water daily can prevent bacteria from building up near your urethra.
Don’t hold your pee. Letting urine sit in the bladder for too long gives bacteria more time to multiply.
Urinate before and after sex. Yep, skipping the post-coital bathroom break can increase your risk of getting a UTI. That’s because sex may transfer infection-causing germs, which could get into the urethra. (FYI, bacteria-swapping isn’t always a bad thing; healthy microbes shared from person to person have helped people build up their immune systems since forever, according to a 2012 article from the National Institutes of Health. In other words, don’t fear your partner’s bacteria.)
Use a condom. These may prevent or reduce the transfer of infectious bacteria, so you can get, say, the benefits of orgasms without fear of STDs or UTIs. (Here are other reasons to consider using a condom.)
Wipe from front to back. Your mom might have taught you this in your grade-school days, and she was right: Wiping from front to back after using the bathroom reduces the chances of bacteria from your #2 getting anywhere near your urethra. (Thanks, mom.) In fact, E. coli is one of the main germs that cause UTIs, according to U.S. Office on Women’s Health—and guess where E. coli comes from? Yyyyep.
Keep your parts clean and dry. Bacteria love warm, wet environments. Wear cotton underwear, which helps wick away moisture and can keep your lady parts dry (in a good way). Change out of sweaty yoga pants and wet swimsuits as soon as possible.
Skip douches and feminine hygiene sprays. It’s counterintuitive, but these items can actually increase your risk of a UTI. That’s because they kill good bacteria as well as bad, which actually work with the body to help prevent infections.
As for cranberry juice, the legendary UTI fighter, the jury is still out on just how effective it is. Some studies have found that while cranberry juice does help reduce the amount of bacteria growth in the bladder, it doesn’t seem to lower the number of UTI incidences for participants.
Bladder infection (urinary tract infection—UTI) in adults: symptoms & causes. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/bladder-infection-uti-in-adults/symptoms-causes.)
How do I treat and prevent UTIs? New York, NY: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/urinary-tract-infections-utis/how-do-i-treat-and-prevent-utis.)
Urinary tract infections. Bethesda, MD: Office of Women’s Health. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/urinary-tract-infections.)
Urinary tract infections. Washington, DC: U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/urinarytractinfections.html.)
Urinary tract infections (UTIs). New York, NY: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/urinary-tract-infections-utis.)
Your microbes and you: the good, bad and ugly. Bethesda, MD: National Institutes of Health, 2012. (Accessed on February 15, 2018 at https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2012/11/your-microbes-you.)