Can you have sex with a UTI?

Liz Wood Alphabiolabs

By Liz Wood, Health Testing Specialist at at AlphaBiolabs
Last reviewed: 02/12/2022

In this guide, we discuss urinary tract infections (UTIs), what they are, and whether it is safe to have sex while you have a UTI.
Table of contents
  • What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?
  • What are the different types of UTIs?
  • What are the symptoms of a UTI?
  • Can you have sex with a UTI? Is it safe?
  • What are the risks of having sex with a UTI?
  • How long should I wait to have sex after a UTI?
  • Is there a safe way to have sex with a UTI?
  • How can I prevent getting a UTI from sex?
  • Can I get tested for UTIs?

What is a urinary tract infection (UTI)?

As the name suggests, a urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that affects the urinary tract including your bladder, urethra, and kidneys, and is caused by bacteria entering the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body).

Although UTIs are common, women are more prone to contracting UTIs than men. This is because women have shorter urethras, making it easier for bacteria to travel into the urinary tract and cause an infection in the urethra, bladder, or kidneys.

There are different types of UTIs that can infect the urethra, bladder, and kidneys. Some of these infections can go away on their own, while others may require treatment.

If you think you might have a UTI, your pharmacy, GP or local sexual health clinic will be able to provide advice and guidance on next steps.

What are the different types of UTIs?

UTIs can affect different parts of the urinary tract, depending on where the infection is located:

Infections of the urethra

Usually caused by bacteria which has spread from the anus to the urethra. These types of UTIs can also be caused by certain sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including chlamydia, gonorrhoea, and mycoplasma genitalium.

UTIs affecting the urethra can cause urethritis (inflammation of the urethra) resulting in symptoms such as pain when urinating and the frequent urge to urinate.

Infections of the bladder

Usually caused by bacteria found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract that spreads from faeces (poo) to the urethra and reaches the bladder. Bladder infections can also be triggered by sexual intercourse and are more commonly seen among women.

UTIs affecting the bladder can cause cystitis (inflammation of the bladder), which occurs when bacteria move up from the urethra and into the bladder resulting in swelling. This can cause symptoms including pain in the lower stomach, pain when urinating and dark, cloudy urine.

Infection of the kidneys

Kidney infections usually occur when bacteria travel to your bladder (causing cystitis), and then up to your kidneys.

However, kidney infections can also develop without a prior bladder infection. They can also be caused by having diabetes, being immunocompromised or from blockages in the urinary tract, such as kidney stones.

Pyelonephritis is another name for a kidney infection. It happens when an infection spreads up the urinary tract but can also be caused by an obstruction in the urinary tract, which causes bacteria to build up as urine is not being flushed away properly.

Kidney infections can cause more serious symptoms including blood in your urine, fever and pain in your lower back and stomach. These infections can cause permanent damage to the kidneys, so it is important to visit your GP if you suspect you have a kidney infection.

What are the symptoms of a UTI?

A person with a UTI may not experience any symptoms. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning when urinating
  • A need to urinate more often
  • Stomach or back pain, just under the ribs
  • Urine that is dark, bloody or has a strong smell

Symptoms of kidney infections/UTIs affecting the kidneys, include:

  • Chills or fever
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Pain in the back
  • Nausea/vomiting

If you are experiencing symptoms that are causing you pain or discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we recommend visiting your GP or local sexual health clinic for advice, testing and treatment as soon as possible.

Can you have sex with a UTI? Is it safe?

Although it is physically possible to have sex while you have a UTI, your doctor or local sexual health clinic may recommend that you abstain from sex (including oral sex) until symptoms have gone away, and any treatment has been completed.

This is because the bacteria that cause UTIs can be passed on to sexual partners. For example, E. coli can be passed from the anus to the vaginal opening, or the penis.

During vaginal sex, the bacteria that cause UTIs can be introduced into the opening of the urethra and moved into the vaginal opening. UTIs are more common in women because the urethra and the vaginal opening are close together.

Sexual activity may also irritate the sensitive tissue in the urinary tract if a person has sex while they have a UTI, which can cause further discomfort.

It is recommended that you speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic if you have questions about having sex while you have a UTI. 

What are the risks of having sex with a UTI?

While it is not necessarily ‘risky’ to have sex with a UTI, some healthcare providers and sexual health services may advise people with UTIs to wait until symptoms have subsided and treatment has been completed before having sex.

This is because having sex with a UTI can aggravate symptoms, causing additional irritation and discomfort.

And while it is not possible to pass a UTI on to your partner, it is possible to pass on UTI-causing bacteria during sexual activity.

You can speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic for further advice and guidance on having sex while you have a UTI.

How long should I wait to have sex after a UTI?

If you have been diagnosed as having a UTI, we recommend that you speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic who will be able to offer guidance on when it is safe to have sex after having an infection.

Is there a safe way to have sex with a UTI?

Having sex while you have a UTI is never going to be 100% safe. This is because the bacteria that cause UTIs can be passed back and forth between partners during sex, even if neither person is displaying symptoms.

It can also be uncomfortable to have sex while you have a UTI, as sexual activity can irritate the affected tissues of the urethra.

For further advice and guidance, speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic.

How can I prevent getting a UTI from sex?

Although urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of infection.

Some healthcare providers recommend the following:

  • Urinating before and after sex: this helps to flush out bacteria that may have made its way into the urethra
  • Wiping front to back after going to the toilet. This can reduce the risk of bacteria spreading from the anus to the urethra
  • Using a condom for any sexual activity that could spread bacteria from the anus to the urethra
  • Washing hands before sexual touching and after any contact with the anus. This can help prevent the spread of bacteria to the urethra

Speak to your GP or local sexual health clinic regarding risk-prevention and UTIs. 

Can I get tested for UTIs?

Regular testing can help you keep your sexual health in check and ensure any infections – including UTIs –are detected early, so that you can seek the correct treatment.

The symptoms of STIs and UTIs can be similar, so regular testing can help identify the cause of these symptoms and the appropriate next steps.

AlphaBiolabs offers a range of home STI tests for this purpose, including our 7-panel STI test which tests for some of the most common pathogens in the UK, including the UTIs ureaplasma parvum and ureaplasma urealyticum.

For this test, you will need to provide either a urine sample (males) or a vaginal swab sample (females). Your test kit will contain everything you need to collect your samples and return them to our UK laboratory for analysis.

Important: if you are experiencing symptoms that are causing severe pain and discomfort, or that require a face-to-face examination, we advise you to contact your GP or local sexual health clinic as soon as possible.

You must be at least 16 years of age to purchase a home STI test kit from AlphaBiolabs.

Order an STI test kit

At-home STI testing you can trust, from just £29.

Liz Wood

Liz Wood

Health Testing Specialist at AlphaBiolabs

Liz joined AlphaBiolabs in 2021, where she holds the role of Health Testing Specialist.

As well as overseeing a range of health tests, she is also the lead on several validation projects for the company’s latest health test offerings.

During her time at AlphaBiolabs, Liz has played an active role in the validation of the company’s Genetic Lactose Intolerance Test and Genetic Coeliac Disease Test.

An advocate for preventative healthcare, Liz’s main scientific interests centre around human disease and reproductive health. Her qualifications include a BSc in Biology and an MSc in Biology of Health and Disease.

 

Related articles…

What is the difference between an STI and an STD?

We discuss the difference between STIs and STDs, common symptoms, and how you can keep your sexual health in check with regular testing.

Which STIs/STDs can you get from oral sex?

We discuss the STIs that can be passed on during oral sex, how you can reduce your risk of catching an STI/STD from oral sex, and how to get tested.

UTIs in men

How urinary tract infections (UTIs) can affect men, the different types of UTIs, and how to reduce the risk of getting a UTI.