UTIs Are Called the ‘Honeymoon Syndrome.’ Are They Inevitable For Sexually Active Women?
“A UTI is a rite of passage. You gotta wear it like a crown. An uncomfortable, scratchy crown that you can’t wait to take off,” Whitney Chase tells her friend, Kimberley Finkle, in the first season of The Sex Lives of College Girls. Indeed, for most sexually active cis-het women, urinary tract infections are a familiar — and unfortunately, often common — experience. It is likely that memories of their first penetrative sexual experiences are infected with those of being curled up with agonizing pain from a UTI. That’s precisely why UTI has been dubbed “honeymoon cystitis” — with “cystitis” being the medical term for inflammation of the bladder.
“I distinctly remember my first UTI [and] like to think of it as the time when I was gloriously unaware that UTIs after sex were really a thing,” Juliet R. writes, recalling her tryst with the infection. “[W]e had sex three times at intervals during the night, and I was basically asleep — that type of dreamy, warm copulation that is closely followed by more slumber. Needless to say, I did not bother going to the toilet… The next day I awoke bu[r]sting to pee, but upon urination, found that I was still BU[R]STING! So uncomfortable, and so weird.”
Typically accompanied by a strong and persistent urge to urinate and a burning sensation while urinating, UTIs can cause a significant amount of pelvic pain. Reportedly, the second-most common type of infection in the body, it is estimated that 50-60% of women have UTIs at least once in their lifetime. And, roughly, 25% of women who get a UTI, go on to have recurrent infections. It is also pertinent to note that it’s not just the fabled “first time” that carries the risk of UTI. Sleeping with a new partner often comes with a new UTI, too.
Yet, lack of awareness about the infection — especially regarding its association with sex — can result in the infection not being treated early. Because it can induce fever and chills, sometimes, people end up focusing on addressing that by popping paracetamol tablets rather than seeking medical advice for their urinary woes. With sex education being rare, and sex being a taboo topic, women might put off seeing a doctor in their bid to avoid awkward conversations about sex. The stigma of premarital sex can further discourage them from seeking help. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what one shouldn’t do.
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“A bladder infection can get better on its own, but most of the time, it doesn’t… If you think you might have a UTI, call your doctor. You might be able to skip the visit to the clinic and head straight to the lab for a urine test,” says Dr. Mark Newton, a urologist. “An untreated bladder infection can become a kidney or prostate infection. These infections are more serious because they can travel through the bloodstream, causing sepsis. Sepsis makes people very ill and can even be critical.”
Interestingly, however, a UTI is not a sexually transmitted infection. In fact, it’s not considered contagious either. It is caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract through the urethra, and multiplying in the bladder. A female body is especially vulnerable to UTIs because, compared to its male counterparts, it has a shorter urethra. The friction and pressure involved in penetrative intercourse can push the bacteria — that often lurks in the anal region — toward the front and in the direction of the urethra, encouraging its passage into the urinary tract.
“I found myself in [a new] relationship with a man who could literally go for hours. We’re brought up to believe this is the ultimate quality in a lover, but apparently, excessive friction coupled with a short and narrow urethra does not equate to the best sex of your life — to the contrary, this was arguably the worst year of my life. I began to realize that every time I had sex, I would get another UTI,” Juliet notes. “UTIs after sex had officially become my modus operandi, and post-coital intimacy had been replaced by me sitting on a toilet trying to force a decent stream of urine from my body.”
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Indeed, peeing immediately after intercourse — or, within 30 minutes of it, at most — is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of getting a UTI. Doing so can help to flush the bacteria out of the urethra — preventing a potential UTI, in the process. Unfortunately, knowledge of this simple trick isn’t as common as it should be, making UTIs seem inevitable. But they don’t have to be.
“UTIs after sex are worse than using the toilet around a new partner,” Juliet has learned the hard way. For her, UTI has been a clingy friend.
Some experts suggest urinating before intercourse, too. Granted, in the heat of the moment, it’s unlikely that people will run to use the loo. And so, there are other ways — all simple, and not necessitating expert supervision: drink plenty of fluids, pee after sex, and if it feels dry “down there,” use a lubricant. The idea, after all, is to stay hydrated and reduce friction as much as possible.
As Juliet advises, “If there was one other thing I’d pass on to other sufferers of UTIs after sex… it’s this: don’t accept it when you’re told it’s just the way you are, or when you’re offered remedies you don’t believe have validity. Do your own research and keep track of your symptoms.”
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