Urinary tract infections (UTIs) come up a lot when talking about sexual health, and if you've ever had one, you know how uncomfortable and miserable they can be. If you're trying to reduce your chances of getting a UTI, one solution that may help prevent a UTI is lubricant. Ahead, two ob-gyns explain how lube can prevent vaginal irritation and as a result, keep you UTI-free. Here's what they want you to know.
What Are Urinary Tract Infections?
"UTIs are common infections that happen when bacteria, often from the skin or rectum, enter the urethra, and infect the urinary tract," according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. People with vaginas and penises can get UTIs, the CDC states. The most common type of UTI is a bladder infection but it is possible to get a kidney infection, which is less common than a bladder infection, according to the CDC.
Symptoms You Have a UTI
The common symptoms of bladder infections are: pain or burning while urinating, frequent urination, needing to urinate when the bladder is empty, bloody urine, and pressure or cramping in the groin or lower abdomen, the CDC reports. Symptoms of a kidney infection include: fever, chills, lower-back pain, pain in the side of your back, nausea, and vomiting. As always, if you have pain or discomfort it's advised you seek medical treatment. If you do in fact have a UTI, your doctor will more than likely prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
How Lubricant Can Help Prevent UTIs
If you are engaging in sex, make sure you're "well lubricated before these kinds of interactions," Susan Khalil, MD, ob-gyn, the director of sexual health at Mount Sinai in New York told POPSUGAR. If you are not sufficiently aroused before engaging in sexual activity, she encourages using a water-based lubricant to prevent skin irritation.
Preventing skin irritation "also prevents certain kinds of infections," Dr. Khalil explained. For example, yeast infections (thrush) can occur as a result of trauma to the sensitive skin and the vagina, she explained. "If you find yourself a little bit on the drier side during sex, use the lubricant," Leah Millheiser, MD, ob-gyn, FACOG, director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford Health Care told POPSUGAR.
She recommended lubricant to avoid trauma to the vulvar area of the vagina which includes: the vestibule (the opening of the vagina), the labia majoria (the outer lips), the labia minora (the inner lips), and the clitoris. "We just find anecdotally, and there's really no good research on this, that if they tend to be drier during sex, and they're having more friction during sex, you tend to see them get UTIs," Dr. Millheiser explained.
If you are prone to UTIs, Dr. Milheiser said, "Take a shower and wash the genital and anal region with soap and water to clean away as much bacteria as you can before sexual activity." Dr. Millheiser also recommended urinating before and after sex to prevent bacteria growth in the bladder.
If you're still getting UTIs, regardless of how good your hygiene is, Dr. Millhieser recommended speaking with your medical provider about potentially using a prophylactic antibiotic, a low-dose antibiotic you take before sexual activity to prevent UTIs and other infections.
What's the Best Lube to Use During Sex?
Lubricant may help prevent UTIs but you've got to ensure you're using the right kind of lube. "First and foremost, avoid at all costs any of the petroleum-based oils or mineral-based oils," Dr. Millheiser said. For example, baby oil, Crisco, and Vaseline. "Do not use those. Those can cause vaginal inflammation," she warned.
If you're looking for something natural, Dr. Millheiser recommends coconut oil, "but only if you are not using latex items (like a dental dam or a condom) for safe sex." This is because coconut oil can break down latex and make it less efficient, she explained. If you're having unprotected sex, Dr. Millheiser said coconut oil, avocado oil, and olive oil are all good options. When it comes to selecting a natural lubricant, Dr. Millheiser said to simply pick the one that smells the best to you.
If you're following best practices like washing your vagina before and after sex, urinating before and after sex, and using lubricant but are still getting UTIs, consult your medical provider. "It's important to find a provider that you're comfortable with so that you can share your history without feeling judged, or without feeling like you can't tell them exactly what happened," Dr. Khalil said.