Is your partner prone to UTIs? Are you looking for ways to support them?
Here we’ve put together some information to help you support your partner, as well as take care of your own health and wellbeing.
Urinary Tract Infection: The Basics
Getting a UTI can be a really stressful experience. And if an infection returns, this can definitely cause some worry.
Having a good level of understanding about what UTIs are, what can cause them, and how you can prevent them can help you and your partner get in control of the situation.
What is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection of the bladder, urethra, ureters or kidneys (which make up the urinary tract). They are caused by bacteria in most cases.
Around 10% of women, or those who’s sex was assigned female at birth (AFAB), will get a urinary tract infection every year. Of those people, up to half will get another infection within a year.
What Causes the Infection?
If bacteria enter the urinary tract then, depending on the species of bacteria and other biological factors, they can start to grow and colonise the area. Signals are sent around the body, and you start to experience common UTI symptoms like feeling a constant urge to go to the toilet, and feeling pain when you urinate.
Bacteria might get into the urinary tract for a number of reasons. Having sex can cause movement of bacteria from one place closer to the urinary tract. And bacteria like warm, humid environments, so if you do something like regularly wear tightly fitting clothes, this might contribute to bacterial growth.
How to Prevent UTIs
There are actions you can take around having sex which can prevent the transfer of bacteria. These include your partner peeing after sex, washing intimate areas (you can both try this one), and avoiding the use of spermicide in any products you use.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can also help keep a good balance of bacteria in your partner's body, so it might be worth mixing things up in the kitchen. This might be something you can experiment with together. Read here for more tips on good and bad foods for UTI.
Drinking plenty of water and cutting back on alcoholic and caffeinated drinks can also really help your partner to keep hydrated. Keeping hydrated means flushing bacteria out of the urinary tract, stopping them doing harm.
Find some more tips for preventing UTI in our blog: Does drinking cranberry juice really help prevent a UTI?
It might be the case that your partner has experienced more than one UTI. As we said, a significant number of people who get one UTI will go on to experience more. Recurrent UTI is defined by the European Association of Urology as at least 2 UTIs in the last 6 months, or at least 3 UTIs in the last 12 months.
There is a theory that bacteria from a first infection can hang about in the urinary tract and flare-up later on, causing chronic or recurrent symptoms. If you think this might be the case for your partner, it could be worth speaking to a doctor about more advanced testing options to see if you can get to the bottom of what’s going on.
In some cases, partners may be tested as well to see if bacteria is being passed back and forth between the two of you - bacteria which may be harmless to you but cause problems for your partner.
Read more about the UTI basics here: Urinary Tract Infection 101
UTIs & Sex
You might be wanting to get some more info on the link between UTI and sex, as it could well be something that’s really impacting your relationship with your partner. It is common for those who suffer from recurrent UTIs to report sexual distress. Managing urogynaecological conditions can definitely complicate sex and cause a lot of anxiety for some.
It’s really important to keep up good communication, and find ways to be intimate without inducing anxiety. Remember, sex looks different for everyone! It’s key to find what works best for you, which can involve some experimentation.
For cases of recurrent UTI that seem to be specifically triggered by sex, doctors may also prescribe taking antibiotics before sex to avoid that outcome. So this could be something to look into if it sounds like the kind of solution your partner needs. Because no UTI sufferer should have to give up having an intimate relationship with their partner if it can be helped.
That being said, it might be that your partner decides that having sex just isn’t right for them right now, and maybe they want to focus purely on looking after their health. Again, it’s important to have good communication around these decisions.
If your partner is wanting to have sex but is very anxious, it can help to think about times when having sex was enjoyable and didn’t result in an infection. Because it can be very easy to focus on all the times they got a UTI, when in fact there might be lots of times when having sex was perfectly safe. Focusing on moments of safety can really help to lessen physical and psychological stress responses.
We talk more about sexual risk factors for UTI, managing relationship impact, prevention tips, and differentiating between STI or UTI here.
So we know that bacteria can be transferred between partners, and if you are a man or someone who’s sex was assigned male at birth, then you might be thinking about whether you could also get an infection.
Much fewer men are affected by UTI than women (the yearly prevalence is around 0.1% in men, compared to the 10% in women). This is mostly due to men having much longer urethras (the tube that carries urine from your bladder out of the body). Because the urethra is longer, bacteria have further to travel to do proper damage.
That being said, if you are experiencing UTI symptoms (which would be very similar to those experienced by women), it’s important to seek advice from a healthcare professional. With male UTI, there is always a chance that the prostate is involved in the development of an infection. Testing methods and treatment approaches for UTI in men take this into account.
The Psychological Impact of UTI
Whether it’s you or your partner experiencing symptoms, it’s important to know that urinary symptoms are often reported to be extremely debilitating, and if you are finding this, you are not alone.
Around 70% of people living with recurrent UTIs have reported experiencing feelings of depression, as well as impacted relationships and daily activities, including being able to work.
Managing persistent, burdensome symptoms can really take its toll, and so can navigating your healthcare options.
So it’s important to take time for self-care and building self-compassion (for you both). Taking care of your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. In the case of urinary symptoms, if you’re prone to bladder issues like UTI, your nervous system can actually become overly sensitive to signals coming from your bladder, which triggers symptoms. You can calm your nervous system down by working to reduce psychological stress, as well as the physical sensations.
Check out our blog Are UTIs or other bladder health issues affecting your mental health? for tips that you and your partner could use to improve mental wellbeing while dealing with urinary health issues.
Keep Up the Communication
And as we said, something that will really help is keeping up the communication. Psychological research consistently shows that receiving support from loved ones can reduce the physical burden of illness, as well as psychological stress.
If you are anxious about having a conversation with your partner, it might be useful to seek advice from an objective third party such as a friend or counsellor. And it can also be useful to make a note of what you would like the outcomes of that conversation to be and what it is that you would like to understand better from their perspective, or would like for them to understand.
Lastly, If you are exploring testing options, and would love to be able to test for UTI without having to leave the house when you have symptoms - TestCard’s At-Home UTI Test Kit allows you to test for an infection from the comfort of your home (available from any of these pharmacies: Superdrug, Dears Pharmacy, Zava , Midway Pharmacy, Weldricks Pharmacy, Chemist4u).
If your symptoms aren’t clearing up and are starting to cause concern, it’s important to seek help from a medical professional.