Man against a pink background holding a condom and wondering if a UTI can be transmitted through sex

Can a UTI Be Transmitted Through Sex?

Medically reviewed on May 19, 2023 by Amy Harris, MS, RN, CNM. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Not really, but it is complicated. So, let’s start with some definitions first. UTIs are infections involving any part of the urinary system, including your urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. Women and those people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are about 30 times more likely to get UTIs than men or people assigned male at birth (AMAB). [1] You can develop a UTI when normal bacteria living in your gut (most commonly E. coli bacteria) is accidentally transferred forward from your anus to your urethra (the opening to your urinary tract). Because female’s or people AFAB’s urethras are closer to their rectums, bacteria have a shorter distance to travel, and therefore women bare the brunt of the UTI burden. [1]

Because most types of sexual activity make it easier to spread this bacteria into the urethra, there is a connection between having sex and getting a UTI, especially if you have female anatomy. Men who have anal sex and those who are uncircumcised are also more likely to get UTIs than men who do not have anal sex or who are circumcised. [2] So, unlike some sexually transmitted infections that are transmitted through semen, blood, or vaginal secretions (such as HIV, chlamydia, or gonorrhea), UTIs are not directly transmitted through sexual activity. [3] But, if you are sexually active, it is definitely easier to develop a UTI, especially if you are female.

Fortunately, there are ways you can lower your risk of catching a UTI if you are sexually active. The other good news is that when caught early, UTIs can be treated quickly, easily, and affordably. [1] Below, we’ll touch on several risk factors for UTIs, as well as treatment and methods for prevention.

Understanding UTIs and Your Urinary Tract

Researchers estimate that more than half of people assigned female at birth will contract at least one UTI in their lives. [1] In some cases, UTIs will go away without taking medication, but the only way to make sure you are cured is to consult with a health care provider about your symptoms and take any medications they prescribe.

It’s important to note that UTIs can become more complicated to treat (and more dangerous for you) if they go undiagnosed and untreated.

  • Urethra
  • Bladder (balloon-like organ that stores urine)
  • Kidneys (the organs that filter your blood and make pee or urine)
  • Ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys to your bladder) bladder)

Are UTIs Dangerous?

The threat posed by UTIs varies by which parts of your urinary tract they infect, how quickly you get treated, and whether or not you have other medical conditionsFor instance, cystitis (the name for what happens when a UTI infects your bladder) is considered relatively uncomplicated type of UTI, meaning that most cases of cystitis are easily, quickly, and successfully treated and cured without requiring urgent medical care or a hospital stay. [4] Cases of cystitis typically respond well to antibiotic treatment when caught early. [5]

However, UTIs that move up to infect the kidneys can be dangerous. Pyelonephritis (an infection of the kidneys that can develop from an untreated bacteria in your urethra or bladder) can be serious, require antibiotics through a tube in your vein (IV catheter), and urgent medical attention or hospitalization. Untreated pyelonephritis can cause permanent damage to your kidneys leading to high blood pressure, kidney disease, or kidney failure. [6]

Another possible life-threatening complication of kidney infections is called sepsis. Sepsis happens when your bladder infection spreads to your bloodstream. [3] Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection and is a medical emergency. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 1 in 3 people who die in a hospital had sepsis during their hospitalization. [7]

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors for UTIs?

In addition to being sexually active, there are several other reasons why you might get a UTI or have trouble with repeated UTIs (called recurrent UTIs). Knowing about (and trying to reduce these risk factors when possible) may help you avoid getting a UTI the next time you have sex, particularly if you are a woman. Some UTI risk factors you can actually do something about, while others are harder to change (called non-modifiable risk factors). Some of those non-modifiable causes of UTIs that are hard to avoid are:

  • Having female reproductive anatomy – People assigned female at birth (AFAB) have a shorter urethra, while people assigned male at birth (AMAB) have a longer one.1 For this reason, it’s easier for infection-causing bacteria to move up to the bladder in AFAB individuals.
  • Going through menopause – Lower levels of estrogen during menopause have various impacts on urinary system function that may heighten the risk of UTIs. [8]
  • Using a catheter – The Centers for Disease Control report that among UTIs acquired in the hospital, approximately 75 percent are associated with a urinary catheter, which is a tube inserted into the bladder through the urethra to drain urine. Between 15-25 percent of hospitalized patients receive urinary catheters during their hospital stay.” [9] Urinary catheters are one of the biggest risk factors for developing a UTI.
  • Having a kidney transplant or other urinary procedure.
  • Having a suppressed immune system – Diabetes and other diseases, as well as medications (like those taken for a kidney transplant), can make it harder for your immune system to do its job – protect you against the body's defense against germs, like the ones responsible for UTIs. [5]
  • Having kidney stones or an enlarged prostate – The prostate is a small gland at the base of the penis in men and those AMAB that commonly becomes enlarged with age and some medical conditions. Urine can back up behind an enlarged prostate or kidney stones, welcoming in a UTI. [2]

UTI Prevention Tips To Try If You Are Sexually Active and Get Frequent UTIs

Chances are you probably already know about some of these tips and tricks to prevent UTIs, but just to refresh your memory, here are some prevention measures to try: [5]

  • Stay hydrated- drink plenty of water and limit caffeine and alcohol which dehydrate you
  • Avoid or limit bladder irritants such as coffee, seltzer and other carbonated beverages, alcohol, artificial sweeteners, and citrus fruits [10]
  • Try switching to a different birth control method besides the diaphragm or spermicide if possible if you have trouble with recurrent UTIs
  • Urinate after sexual activity
  • Drink a glass of water after sexual activity to make sure you flush away any bacteria the next time you pee
  • Wash all sex toys, especially if you use them during anal intercourse or activity
  • Wipe from front to back after having a bowel movement (pooping)
  • Shower, bathe, or wash your genitals and area around your anus with a mild soap and warm water regularly
  • Avoid potentially irritating feminine products cleansing products such as deodorant sprays, douches and powders – they irritate your urethra
  • Some research indicates that cranberry extract (taken in supplement form) can be helpful for people with recurrent UTI infections. There is no evidence that taking cranberry extract or drinking cranberry juice (with its high sugar content) can treat UTI [5]
  • If you are perimenopausal (the time before menopause) or postmenopausal (you have stopped having periods), talk with your health care provider about possible treatments such as hormone replacement therapy (HRT) which can help prevent recurrent UTIs and make sexual intercourse feel more comfortable [5]

Symptoms of UTIs

In many cases, UTIs can occur without presenting any noticeable symptoms, especially in people with male anatomy The most common symptoms people with a UTI report are [4,5]:

  • Feeling the urge (urinary urgency) to urinate frequently (urinary frequency)
  • Passing very little urine when going to the bathroom
  • Experiencing pain or burning during urination
  • Urine that appears murky or discolored
  • Urine that carries a strong odor
  • Feeling discomfort, pain, itching, or pressure in the pelvic area or back (dysuria)

UTI Treatment

If your UTI symptoms persist for longer than one to two days, or if they become more severe, it’s best to consult with a healthcare provider to alleviate your pain and prevent the infection from advancing to the kidneys. [4,5]

Healthcare providers typically rely on antibiotic medications to treat most UTIs. These can include: [4,5]

  • Trimethoprim (3-day course)
  • Sulfamethoxazole (3-day course)
  • Sulfamethoxazole (3-day course)
  • Nitrofurantoin (5 to 7-day course)

Stay on Top of Sexual Health Testing with Everlywell

While UTIs are not classified as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), some of their symptoms, like discomfort during urination, can be the same as STIs symptoms. [3] Besides learning how to prevent a UTI, sticking to a routine of sexual health testing may help bring you peace of mind and make sense of confusing and uncomfortable UTI symptoms you might be experiencing.

To discuss your symptoms and potentially get a diagnosis and treatment, you can speak with a clinician through Everlywell’s virtual care program. Depending on your symptoms and other health conditions you might have, you may be able to receive UTI treatment online.

Ready to learn more? Book a virtual care appointment today.

How to Prevent UTIs

Kidney Infection vs. UTI

Why Do I Keep Getting UTIs?


  1. Urinary tract infections. Office on Women’s Health (OASH). URL. Updated February 22, 2021. Accessed May 24, 2023.
  2. Shmerling R. Urinary tract infection in men. Harvard Health Publishing. URL. Published December 5, 2022. Accessed May 10, 2023.
  3. Sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs). Mayo Clinic. URL. Published April 14, 2023. Accessed May 24, 2023.
  4. Urinary tract infection (UTI). Cleveland Clinic. URL. Accessed May 11, 2023.
  5. Urinary tract infection (UTI). Mayo Clinic. URL.. Published September 14, 2022. Accessed May 11, 2023.
  6. Kidney infection. Mayo Clinic. URL. Published August 6, 2022. Accessed May 11, 2023.
  7. What is sepsis. CDC. URL. Published August 9, 2022 . Accessed May 25, 2023.
  8. Caretto M, Giannini A, Russo E, Simoncini T. Preventing urinary tract infections after menopause without antibiotics. Maturitas. 2017;99:43-46. doi:10.1016/j.maturitas.2017.02.004. URL.
  9. Catheter-Associated Urinary Tract Infections (CAUTI). CDC. URL. Published October 15, 2015. Accessed May 24, 2023.
  10. Bladder irritating foods. Cleveland Clinic. URL. Published October 30, 2020. Accessed May 24, 2023.
  11. infections. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2023, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD001321. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001321.pub6. URL.
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