A urinary tract infection (UTI) is caused by outside bacteria getting into the urethra (colloquially known as the place pee comes out of).
UTIs often result in a burning sensation when urinating, a constant, but unquenchable need to urinate, and vaginal pain. Until recently, the cause of chronic UTIs was unknown. A study by the Washington University School of Medicine is shedding more light on the topic. The study found that chronic UTIs can be caused by vaginal bacteria getting into the urethra (specifically in sexually active vagina-owners).
“Nearly every time I had a sexual encounter, I was experiencing a urinary tract infection,” explains Stephanie Osmanski in a personal essay for HelloFlo. “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.”
About 80% of UTIs are caused by the transmission of E.Coli (a bacteria found in human bowels and bowel movements) from the anus to the urethra. This can be caused by a number of things, such as wiping back to front, going from anal to vaginal play without washing your hands and genitals (this includes fingers, penises, toys, and tongues), or simply not washing your hands thoroughly enough and then touching your urethra. For these reasons, UTIs are much more common amongst sexually active people.
According to this new study, E. Coli is not the only culprit for chronic UTIs; it’s a bacteria found in the vagina. When the vaginal bacteria, Garnerella vaginalis, comes in contact with latent E. Coli (which can continue to live in the urethra after symptoms go away) it triggers another UTI.
The results are notable because before then poor hygiene or not urinating after sex were considered the reasons behind chronic UTIs. Now, instead of hypothesizing on assumed triggers, the study gives tangible reasons and things women can proactively do as preventatives.
For instance, according to Mayo Clinic, it’s recommended that women complete a full course of antibiotics for a UTI before having vaginal, penetrative sex again — even if symptoms go away before the full course is completed.
Getting UTIs is certainly not fun and getting chronic UTIs is even worse. To avoid E.Coli from entering your urethra in the first place, The Mayo Clinic recommends you wiping front to back, emptying your bladder soon after sex, and refraining from using un-lubricated or spermicide-treated condoms because they promote bacteria growth.
While it’s wildly inconvenient that both bacteria from your bowels and your vagina can cause UTIs, this is an important step in finding a cure to the painful and irritating struggle of chronic UTIs.