Spilling the Pee on UTIs

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are SUPER common in vagina-owning people and most womxn will experience at least once in their lifetime. Make sure to tune in to our UTI episode where Executive Producer Bethney Bonilla talks with Dr. Aviva Weinberg, a urologist at Kaiser Permanente. 


The urinary tract involves the kidneys, urethra, bladder, ureters, and sphincter. ALL of these things could be infected and they would ALL fall under the umbrella of a “UTI.”  According to Dr. Weinberg, bladder infections are by far the most frequent form of UTI seen. 


Because UTIs are so common, they’re a common topic in women’s health magazines. These magazines, however do little to dispel some of the more common myths about UTIs. 


Dr. Weinberg helped us debunk some of these myths in more detail:


Myth: Any appearance of bacteria in urine indicates a UTI

Truth: Urine is not as “sterile” as many think. Bacteria is everywhere. It’s on your skin, your hair, your clothes, and in your urine. Sometimes cultures of bacteria will develop in the urine, but no symptoms of a UTI will be felt. If you don’t feel like you have a UTI, you probably don’t have one. (Even if you have some bacteria in your pee). 


Myth: What you wear or do (underwear, pants, take bubble baths, douche) can cause a UTI

Truth: Most of these things do not impact the development of a UTI. Feel free to wear whatever pants and underwear you want, and don’t hesitate to take a bubble bath. Douching, however, can increase the risk of infection because it alters the ecosystem of the vagina. The vagina naturally has mechanisms to protect against infection. Douching toys with that system. 


Myth: UTI symptoms should be automatically treated with antibiotics

Truth: UTIs can be treated with antibiotics and antibiotics make for the speediest recovery, but they are not always necessary. We live in an era of overprescription of antibiotics and there are ways to potentially manage the symptoms without getting on antibiotics. Antiinflammatories treat the symptoms of a UTI and could be enough to “cure’ you. As a rule of thumb, use non-antibiotic options for two days. If you still have pain or worsening symptoms after that two day period, consider speaking with your doctor about antibiotics. 


Myth: You should shower/pee/clean your vagina after sex to prevent a UTI

Truth: You don’t need to, but you can. There is little data which says that flushing out the vagina be it in the shower or with urine prevents any UTI, but there is also no evidence that it provokes one either. Sex can be a trigger for a UTI. If you experience multiple UTIs after sex however, talk to your provider about the possibility of prophylactic antibiotics for sex (yup- it’s a thing for some people).


Myth: UTIs are STIs 

Truth: They are not. You cannot “transmit” a UTI from one person to another sexually. What you can do is introduce bacteria into the vagina, which could trigger a UTI. If you want to have sex while you have a UTI ( which you probably won’t considering that you have to pee every five minutes) go for it.


Myth: Holding in your pee causes UTIs

Truth: Studies have shown that children (toddlers) who are potty training and hold in their pee are more likely to get a UTI. For everyone else, there is very little correlation. 


Myth: Cranberries help prevent UTIs 

Truth: Chugging cranberry juice probably doesn’t, but cranberry extract might. Why? There have been tons of studies looking at whether or not cranberries do work. What researchers have found is that the active ingredient proanthocyanidins works by preventing bacterial binding to the lining of the bladder. Now drinking cranberry juice probably won’t give you the amount of the active ingredient needed. To ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of proanthocyanidins to try to prevent a UTI, shoot for a cranberry supplement.