Ah, the dreaded urinary tract infection (UTI). If you've ever had one, you'll recognize the symptoms: the frequent, painful urination and the pressure or pain in the lower abdomen — along with the panic that this time it might be a sexually transmitted disease that's descended upon you rather than a common, treatable UTI.
The majority of UTIs occur in women, and (for reasons that are not well understood) many women develop one after having sex with a new partner. A UTI is usually the result of bacteria entering the urinary tract, disrupting the normally sterile environment. Those bacteria are most often E. coli from the colon — I know it's not exactly romantic, but our more compact sexual anatomy and shorter urethras make for easy transmission!
Fortunately, UTIs are easy to diagnose and treat: A simple urine test at your doctor's office, followed by a round of antibiotics, will restore you to physical (and mental) health. Even if you've had a UTI before and are sure that's what you have, it's always important to visit the doctor when having symptoms. Your fears about having an STD are probably unfounded, but it's important to check so you can be certain and get the right treatment.
Since it's obviously better to prevent an infection in the first place, here are some tips to minimize your UTI risk:
- Practice safer sex when you're with a new partner.
- Wash your genitals before and after sex — and give your partner a sponge bath while you're at it!
- Drink plenty of water to flush your body of unhealthy bacteria.
- Drink 100 percent cranberry juice. Its acidity helps to stop E. coli from implanting in the bladder.
- Urinate before and after sex, as well as regularly throughout the day (at least every four hours).
- When using the bathroom, wipe from front to back to keep the E. coli from your bowel movements away from your urinary tract.
- Take showers, not baths, so you're not sitting in water that may contain bacteria.
Along with these precautions, it is also important to avoid douching. Many women wrongly think that their vaginas are inherently dirty and need to be cleaned with harsh chemicals or perfumed with strong deodorants, but this is simply not the case. Silly as it sounds, the vagina is self-cleaning; by which I mean that it naturally works to maintain the ideal pH balance and level of “good” bacteria. By washing with harsh chemicals, you will not only wash away some of this necessary good bacteria, but you will also strip the vagina of natural lubricant. All this can cause discomfort as well as an infection.
If you douche regularly, it might be a good idea to look at why you want to douche. For many women, the need to douche comes from negative perceptions about their anatomy, such as “It smells bad” or “It’s gross down there.” These perceptions are sad and simply false; there is nothing wrong or dirty about your vagina, anymore than there is something wrong or dirty about your arms or legs! It’s a part of your body that you should embrace and treat with care. If you want to cleanse yourself, all you need is some warm water, and even then you should cleanse only the vulva, not the actual inside of the vagina. As for perfumed scents and sprays, I say avoid them altogether. Your vagina isn’t supposed to smell like a rose, and if you shower regularly and practice safer sex, there should never be a foul or unpleasant odor (if there is, this is a possible sign of infection and you should see your doctor). Otherwise, your vagina is one area of your body that you never need to waste time and money trying to “perfect” — it already comes that way!