5 myths about Urinary Tract Infections and what you really need to know about UTIs

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Amy Beecham
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With overnight stays and casual sex back on the cards, here’s what everyone should know about the very common health problem that is a UTI. 

The easing of lockdown restrictions have come as a relief for majority of us, whether it was a drink in a pub, seeing a film in the cinema or a different kind of fun we’ve been craving.

Ever since we found out that overnight stays and casual sex were cautiously back on the cards from 17 May, we’ve been preparing for a so-called ‘summer of love’ to take place. It figures, as a lot of single people are horny, excited and ready to mingle after a year of little physical, and especially sexual, contact.

But after over a year out of the game, there may be some of the not-so-pleasant aspects of casual dating that we’ve forgotten about. No, we’re not talking about being ghosted (though that does suck), we mean UTIs.

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the leading cause of bacterial infection, and it’s estimated that half of all women in the UK will experience one at least once in their lifetime. If you’ve ever felt that tell-tale burning sensation of needing to pee and then not being able to go, you’ve probably had one too. 

UTIs cause uncomfortable and painful symptoms such as burning when urinating, an increased frequency of urination without actually passing much urine, bloody or cloudy urine, and pelvic pain.

There are so many aspects of our sexual health we need to consider, throughout the ‘summer of love’ and beyond. 

The good news: once diagnosed, UTIs are easy to treat - but there is still so much confusion and misinformation surrounding them. Stylist speaks to Dr Andrew Vallance-Owen, Chief Medical Officer at TestCard to help bust five of the most common UTI-related myths.

Spoiler: cranberry juice doesn’t really work, no matter what you’ve heard. 

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Only women get UTIs

While it’s true that  women are more likely to get a UTI than men, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible for men to get them too. Men have a longer urethra than women, which makes the passage of bacteria into the bladder more difficult - but it can happen. 

Washing your vagina with soap and warm water will prevent UTIs

While it’s of course important to gently wash the exterior, Dr Vallance-Owen stresses that there is no need whatsoever to be using soap, wipes (or any other product claiming to make your feel or smell fresh down there) inside your vagina. In fact, doing so could affect the natural pH and bacterial balances, making you more prone to infection.

UTIs are ‘caught’ from having ‘too much’ sex

Many people often wrongly think that because UTIs are an infection, they are hence contagious. “This is simply not true,” says Dr Vallance-Owen. However, during intercourse, bacteria can be pushed into the urethra, which means UTIs can occur after sex - but it’s not the only cause.

You’re more likely to get a UTI if you are dehydrated for a long period, hold in your urine for too long, or if you have a medical condition such as diabetes. You don’t even necessarily need to be sexually active to get one - they can occur at any age.

However, Dr Vallance-Owen does recommend practicing safe sex to reduce your risk of getting a UTI. But beware of spermicide lubricated condoms, as they are actually linked to an increased risk.

Drinking cranberry juice will cure your UTIs

Ah yes, the famous miracle “cure” I’m sure we’ve all heard before. Turns out it’s not strictly true.

“While it would be nice to believe, unfortunately there’s no specific scientific evidence to support the notion that cranberry juice will rid you of your UTI”, says Dr Vallance-Owen. 

However, some do say that cranberry juice makes it harder for bacteria to stick to the bladder wall, and others that it makes urine more acidic, which prevents infection. But the bottom line is there are no guarantees, but it could be worth a try, particularly if you like the flavour.

UTIs mean you have poor personal hygiene 

There is already so much shame and stigma around our bodies that the last thing we need is another untruth to add to it.

Yes - UTIs are a bacterial infection, but normally they are not an indication that someone is ‘unclean’, so there’s no need to be embarrassed. In fact, over-cleaning your intimate area can actually do more harm than good, as harsh soaps and chemicals in cleaning products can kill the lactobacillus (or “friendly bacteria”) in your vagina.

In order to practice best hygiene, you should always remember to wipe from front to back with toilet paper after using the toilet. This is because wiping the other way round can push bacteria from the rectal area into the urethra, which can lead to infection.

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