The less sexy side of any steamy encounter is … the burn. Urinary tract infections, known all-too-familiarly by women everywhere as UTIs, are extremely uncomfortable and, unfortunately, come with the territory of having frequent sex. Another, slightly less painful but equally disturbing infection is the yeast infection. No shade here. The sad facts are that these are both super normal and common, albeit unwelcome AF.
Before you go shaming yourself or avoiding the doctor because of embarrassment, know this. You are not dirty, gross, or doing it wrong. In fact, your partner isn’t disgusting either (we hope, but that choice is yours to make). UTIs are caused by bacteria, and the world is full of it. Good and bad.
One of the most harmful bacterial culprits of UTIs comes from a neighbor—your vagina’s neighbor, to be exact. That’s not a result of faulty engineering, though. You might have heard the phrase that vaginas are “self-cleaning ovens,” and that is exactly true. We have a vast supply of benevolent flora that mitigates the bad bugs, preventing infections every day.
Dr. Peter Weiss, founder of the Rodeo Drive Women’s Health Center, OB-GYN, and assistant clinical professor at UCLA School of Medicine, chimes in about how sex can redistribute bacteria and be a huge player in causing these unwanted discomforts. He explains that “sometimes during sex, your partner may push and pull some bacteria around and deposit them in the opening of the urethra. The bacteria then find their way into your bladder and…” We know the rest.
Before you go chugging a cranberry juice cocktail at the first twinge of fire in your nether regions, rethink your source. The compounds in cranberry juice might prevent certain strains of bacteria from attaching to your bladder and urethra, but if you’re in the throes of a full-blown infection, it won’t help much. Also, the added sugars and “natural flavors” in most cranberry juices that don’t make you cringe when you drink them are feeding the infection, so skip the Ocean Spray and go for the hard stuff. Spoiler alert, it doesn’t taste good.
If you’re trying to go as homeopathic as possible, garlic, oregano oil, and turmeric are your closest allies. Both garlic and oregano oil are highly antimicrobial, and some even refer to them as “nature’s antibiotics.” Turmeric is great for reducing inflammation, which is where all the discomfort stems from. Take it in capsule form, with lots and lots of water. Pop an ibuprofen for quicker relief. Sometimes ya gotta!
Nothing quite kicks a UTI like good ol’ fashioned antibiotics, though. However, if you find yourself putting your doc’s number on speed dial for the meds every time you have a roll in the hay, it might be time to start evaluating some things.
Do you both have clean hands, to start? Prior to heavy petting, make sure both your and your partner’s hands are clean. Don’t have sex right after an intense workout, because sweating in synthetic stretchy workout wear is a breeding ground for bacteria. And ladies, this shouldn’t be news, but, pee after sex. If you can’t immediately after, no biggie, But as soon as you can, go. It flushes out any bacteria that may be trying to climb its way up and in, very uninvitedly so.
Also, you don’t want to get too comfortable living your life antibiotic to antibiotic. Remember that self-cleaning oven we talked about? While antibiotics are life-changing heros in Western medicine, their single job is to kill all bacteria, including your good flora in your lady parts too. Dr. Weiss says that “after sex, the vaginal environment is changed, and yeast can move in.” Yeast infections thrive in areas where the good bacteria has been ravaged. Good bacteria feed on yeast, preventing its takeover, so bacterial genocide is definitely not the answer.
Women need to consider this more and more as we age. Dr. Weiss points out that “in menopause, or close to it, the vaginal mucosa (lining) is not as healthy as in younger women. This reduces the good lactobacilli [those friendly bacteria], which help fight off UTIs and yeast infections.”
Another reason your partner can’t be completely blamed is that yeast infections can be triggered by sex, but not necessarily caused by it. If you have a high candida diet (candida is a yeast that feeds on sugar, processed flours, and simple carbs), you may just be creating a little breeding ground for yeast to move in and get cozy. Make sure you eat plenty of fermented goods to mitigate this ravage, and work to prevent UTIs (and thus, yeast infections), not just treat them.