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What You Need to Know about UTIs

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Do not, we repeat, do not wait until you have a urinary tract infection to learn about them.

I learned about urinary tract infections (UTIs) the hard way when I found myself sitting on the floor of my dorm bathroom at 1 a.m. in excruciating pain. I’d just gotten into my first serious sexual relationship and I had no idea what was wrong with me, why I was doubled over in pain, or why I kept thinking I had to pee and running to the bathroom only to discover I didn’t have to go at all. I spent the night in the bathroom, Googling my symptoms. Every site said the same thing: I had a UTI, which is caused by an influx of bacteria near the urethral opening. All I could think was, How did I not know this could happen?

As it turns out, I’m not alone. I reached out to some friends and they all told a similar story: they knew a little about STI and pregnancy prevention before having sex, but they didn’t know that you could get a UTI from sex. Over 50% of women get a urinary tract infection at least once and 80% of those women had sex within the previous 24 hours. I can’t help thinking how many painful infections and time-consuming doctors’ visits could’ve been avoided if people knew more about UTIs. For answers to your specific questions, make an appointment to visit your nearest The Right Time health center.

To save other young people from crying in bathrooms, or at least from running to and from them, let’s go over how to detect, treat, and, prevent UTIs.

Detecting a UTI

Any of the following signs could indicate one:

  • It burns when you pee.
  • You feel like you have to urinate all the time but whenever you go, not much comes out.
  • When you do pee, it’s cloudy or strangely colored and/or smells bad.
  • You feel sleepy and achy, especially in your lower abdomen.

Treating a UTI

If you think you might have a UTI, go to a health care provider right away. There are over-the-counter medications that can help you manage until you get an appointment, but don’t rely on these alone. The best way to make sure you fully get rid of the infection is prescription antibiotics.

Preventing a UTI

Better than treatment, of course, is prevention. Here are a few of the most common recommendations for preventing UTIs:

  • If you gotta go, go; never hold in your pee.
  • Always wipe from front to back.
  • Keep it clean down there with plain old water—some sexual health experts say you shouldn’t even use soap on the vulva. You definitely shouldn’t use soap in the vagina—or vaginal douches, for that matter. They can actually cause infections.
  • Drink lots of water (6 to 8 cups per day).
  • There’s some evidence that drinking real cranberry juice (with no added sugar) can help women with repeat UTIs have fewer infections.
  • Avoid tight-fitting undies and opt for cotton crotches.

If you get UTIs on a regular basis and you’re wondering if your birth control is causing them, make an appointment to talk to a provider at your nearest The Right Time health center about your other birth control options. All methods are available for free or at a low-cost.


Updated March 2021

Lindsey Ellefson is a writer and activist who is downright obsessed with advocating for reproductive justice, promoting sex positivity, and generally sticking it to The Man. To keep up with her and read her latest work, follow her on Twitter @lindseydawn_.

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