Anyone who has ever had a urinary tract infection (UTI) knows that it’s one of the most painful things in the world, and you wouldn’t even wish it on your worst enemy. The burning sensation when you pee is so bad that you dread going anywhere near a bathroom. The culprit of a UTI is when bacteria enters your body through the urethra and causes an infection in your bladder. If left untreated, the infection could travel to your kidneys and cause some serious damage.
That’s common knowledge, though. What a lot of women wonder is why some of us are more prone to getting UTIs than others. While some women are lucky enough to never experience a UTI in their lives, there are others who battle this infection a couple times a year. What gives?
POPSUGAR spoke with Alyssa Dweck, MD, a gynecologist in New York and the author of The Complete A to Z For Your V: A Woman’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina, who gave us a rundown on why UTIs happen to some people and not to others.
First of all, it’s important to note that women are more prone to getting UTIs than men are. This “is sheerly anatomical,” Dr. Dweck said. The urethra and anus are much closer on a woman’s body than on a man’s, which means it’s much easier for bacteria from your poop to make its way up into your bladder. Gross, yes, but that’s just the way our bodies were made.
“Sexually-active women are more prone to UTIs because thrusting of intercourse may bring rectal bacteria to the urethra and increase the risk,” Dr. Dweck told POPSUGAR. Additionally, women who are in menopause experience more hormone fluctuation and have less estrogen in their bodies, which makes the tissue around the urethra more delicate. This could allow bacteria to be introduced much easier than those who haven’t reached menopause yet.
However, women who take birth control may experience a dip in their estrogen levels, and this could make them more susceptible to contracting a UTI. There is also speculation that some women have a kind of receptor in their bladder wall that encourages bacteria to stick more easily. This isn’t proved by extensive research yet, but it’s being looked into.
Dr. Dweck says there are certainly ways to prevent UTIs, though, regardless of whether you’re more prone to them. “Wiping front to back” is always helpful, she said, because you don’t want to drag fecal bacteria to your urethra. Peeing after sex “helps to mechanically cleanse the urethra.” Additionally, the old wives’ tale that sitting in a wet bathing suit causes infections “actually has some credence to it,” she told POPSUGAR, so change out of your wet or sweaty clothes as soon as you can.
But Dr. Dweck said the method to preventing UTIs is “independent and individualized.” Some people urinate both before and after sex, while others take a shower before they have sex to clean off excess bacteria.
For women who habitually struggle with UTIs, doctors sometimes recommend “cranberry concentrate supplements on a day-to-day basis,” Dr. Dweck explained. “There’s a particular ingredient that makes the bladder more slippery to the e-coli bacteria.” There are even some women who are prescribed a one-dose antibiotic to take every time after sex in order to prevent infection, but this is “mainly for women who know that every time they have sex, they get a UTI.”
Of course, if you find that your stubborn UTI problem just won’t go away, Dr. Dweck says your medical provider will likely check and see if there are any anatomical issues going on.
If any of this sounds painfully familiar, don’t hesitate to speak to your doctor. Although UTIs are easily treated and not dangerous in the long run, you don’t want to let the infection go unnoticed, especially if it keeps coming up and continuously affecting your life in negative ways.