Sex for everyone else seemed fun and rewarding; for me, it was a tremendous source of anxiety because of my susceptibility to UTIs.
The first time I was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection was at my college campus’ infirmary. A university nurse attempted to calm me, reassuring me this was a very common issue for women—that her and the other nurses had treated several others for UTIs just earlier that day. It wasn’t a sexually transmitted infection, she explained, but it was a consequence of being sexually active. Sex, she continued, can push already-existing bacteria into a woman’s urethra and cause the symptoms of infection: burning during urination, frequent peeing (with little to nothing coming out), fever, and more.
Back in those early days, I assumed UTIs wouldn’t control my life. Infections seemed like a possibility but I never imagined the hold they would continue to have on me throughout the years. Soon, it became apparent that my ecosystem was very fragile and any sort of sexual behavior at all upset its natural balance. Nearly every time I had a sexual encounter, I was experiencing a urinary tract infection. Previously, I’ve estimated that I have had over 100 UTIs since becoming sexually active. Now that I’m 25, I can safely say it’s been way more than that.
A proneness to infection invariably puts a damper on the promise of sex. At some point, when you realize that after every encounter, you will wind up sick—glued to the toilet, screaming in pain, pushing out urine that simply won’t come, hospitalized because the infection traveled to your kidneys, heavy and hot with a fever—sex becomes obsolete. Sex transforms into a hassle worth avoiding, not this fun and rewarding experience that is depicted in movies, on TV, or in books. Or even in friends’ weekend, hook-up stories. For me, sex was seldom ever like that quintessential Friends episode where post-romp-in-the-sack, they pull the sheets over their chests and chat about how good it was. Post-bang, I was always running to the bathroom in a desperate effort to eradicate any bacteria by immediately peeing. It was never sexy; it was never cute, and soon I started to deem my health more important than getting laid. To get that sick, nearly every time, just wasn’t worth it.
So I stopped having sex. For nearly two years.
I developed severe, crippling anxiety when it came to the prospect of sex. I couldn’t focus on the act itself because I was so paranoid about the outcome: would this result in discomfort, an infection, a hospitalization? So I steered clear. I much preferred being comfortable and in good health than I did an hour-long lay and its resulting 3-day consequence.
To deal with the emotional turmoil UTIs had on my life, I started writing about sexual health online. Since I couldn’t find a space where women were having as frequent an issue as I was, I decided I would try to make one. I thought if I kept speaking up about my sexual frustrations, not only could I potentially make a difference in someone else’s life who was going through the same thing, but I figured I might also find my tribe of people who were also predisposed.
And I did. Someone commented on one of my pieces about a pill you could take after every sexual encounter that kept infection at bay, an option my gynecologist never mentioned. I went to a urologist and he prescribed me 100mg Macrobid, to be taken immediately after having sex. He also explained that I was prone to UTIs thanks to good ole biology. As frustrating an answer as it is, it’s still an answer, and it brought me a little bit of peace knowing I wasn’t at fault.
For a long time, urinary tract infections ruined my sex life. They made it hard for me to enjoy sex and they made it even harder to function in a relationship. They even caused me to go as far as to avoid sex, to avoid relationships—even love—because I would rather have been healthy and alone than in acute, frequent pain. But in the end, UTIs didn’t win and I’m so happy they didn’t; no one deserves to be fearful of sex because of pain, discomfort, or sickness. We all deserve to enjoy every aspect of a relationship, even sex.
If you are experiencing a similar situation, please know there are options for you. If your gynecologist has exhausted all options, I implore you to visit a urologist.