If you have a vagina, you’ve probably heard that peeing after sex is crucial—especially if you want to avoid a urinary tract infection (UTI). It’s just one of those unwritten rules that some people dutifully follow (and others knowingly ignore). The last thing you want to feel after sex is the burning rage of a UTI, right?
But that doesn’t mean you need to jump out of bed to hit the restroom the second you both finish. Peeing after sex is important, sure, but you might have more wiggle room with the timing than you think. Keep reading to learn why you should pee after sex, plus how to know when you really need to go.
First, let’s talk about those dreaded UTIs.
A UTI happens when bacteria travel up the urethra and multiply. From there, they may even enter the bladder or your kidneys, particularly if the infection goes untreated. People with vaginas are actually at a greater risk of developing a UTI than those without, according to the Mayo Clinic. The reason: The length of the urethra is shorter than it is in someone with a penis, which means there’s a shorter distance for bacteria to travel through. Also, the urethra is pretty close to the vagina and the anus, which means that it’s not uncommon for bacteria from either place to end up in or around your urethra, where it might cause a UTI.
So why does sex sometimes go hand-in-hand with UTIs? “Sex is often associated with UTIs because sexual intercourse introduces bacteria [from the anus] to the urethra and into a woman’s urinary tract,” Alan B. Copperman, M.D., director of the division of reproductive endocrinology and vice-chairman of the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai tells SELF. Even if your partner isn’t knowingly going from your anus to your vagina, there’s a lot of opportunity for bacteria to move around and over towards your urethra during sex.
So why does peeing after sex help prevent UTIs?
Peeing after sex is thought to help flush out bacteria before it can travel to the bladder. But there’s no science-backed timeline here.
“While urinating before and after sex clearly decreases the chance of a urinary tract infection, the couple doesn’t need to have a stopwatch,” Dr. Copperman says. That sense of immediacy you feel is unfounded, so unless you really have to pee, there’s no need to force yourself—squeezing out a drop or two isn’t effectively flushing out bladder anyway. So, feel free to get in some cuddle time or a quick nap, if that’s what feels right. Just make sure to go before you fall asleep for seven hours.
What else can help prevent UTIs?
For starters, if you have to pee, don’t hold it. Holding urine in the bladder for too long may allow any existing bacteria to proliferate. Also, it’s just straight up uncomfortable. So go when you have to go. Here are a few other things you can do to reduce your risk of UTIs, according to the Mayo Clinic:
- Wipe from front to back: This will keep bacteria from the rectal area from entering the vagina and urethra when you wipe.
- Drinks lots of water: Aim for six to eight glasses a day. This will help you pee more often so that you’re consistently flushing any bacteria out of your urinary tract.
- Avoid “feminine hygiene” products: First of all, you don’t need them (all that’s needed to clean your vulva is warm water and maybe a mild soap). Second, scented deodorant sprays or other feminine products could irritate your urethra, making you more susceptible to an infection.
- Maybe change your birth control: Some birth control methods—like diaphragms or spermicide-treated condoms—can increase your chances of getting a UTI.
Some people are just more prone to UTIs than others.
“Some people may have risk factors that make them get UTIs such as diabetes, kidney stones, or abnormalities in the urinary tract,” Mamta Mamik, M.D., a urogynecologist at The Mount Sinai Hospital tells SELF. If you have more than two UTIs within six months, or three in a year, consider yourself prone to UTIs. If this sounds like you, ask your doctor about treatment options and medications that you can take preventatively or at the first sign of infection.
However, if you never or rarely get UTIs and you don’t typically pee right after sex, this is permission to keep doing your thing. If it’s never been a problem for you, it’s fine to keep doing it (or in this case, not doing it), Dr. Mamik confirms. Maybe you’re typically healthily hydrated and have good, regular urination, or your body’s just on its game when it comes to preventing this bacterial invasion. Either way, sit back and be thankful for being UTI-free.