Wait, Are UTIs Contagious?

Wait, Are UTIs Contagious?

Hell hath no fury like a woman who comes down with a UTI after (let’s face it, probably pretty mediocre) sex. Hell also hath no flames as hot and painful as the ones you’re pretty sure must be literally raging through your infected urinary tract when you’re sitting in your doctor’s office a day or two after you forgot to pee post-hookup.

If you’re anything like me—a woman who has, on more than one occasion, been reduced to literal tears in a CVS while waiting for the antibiotics I need to put out the flames in my urethra thanks to a meh hookup with a Tinder rando—you’ve probably wished swift and ruthless vengeance on the person who did this to you when caught in the fiery hellscape of a post-sex UTI (aka urinary tract infection).

But before you carry out your revenge plot, you should know that, technically, a UTI isn’t really anyone’s “fault.” While they can, and often do, occur after sex, you don’t “catch” them from a partner like an STI (sexually transmitted infection).


“UTIs are not contagious,” says board certified ob-gyn Sara Twogood, MD, co-founder of Female Health Education and a medical expert for Queen V. This is because UTIs don’t “spread,” a term that usually means an infection is passed from one person to another, Twogood explains.

So yeah, unfortunately this means that you can’t really blame your flaming urinary tract on that dude you hooked up with a couple days ago who probably ghosted you after, sorry. But there is more to know about how UTIs happen and what you can do to prevent them. For your edification, we tapped the experts to answer all your burning (pun kind of intended) UTI questions.

If UTIs Aren’t Contagious, How Do You Get Them?

UTIs happen when bacteria enters the urethra and the body doesn’t fight it off, thus causing an infection that travels through the urinary tract (which includes the urethra, bladder, and kidneys), Twogood explains.

That bacteria could come from anywhere, and often lives naturally (and healthily) in or on other parts of the body, including your skin, your partner’s skin, your genitals, or their genitals, says ob-gyn Jessica Shepherd, MD, a member of O Positiv’s medical advisory board. It could also be (and, in the case of UTIs that occur after sex, often is) bacteria from, uh, your butt—the hole part, to be specific. Thanks to the close proximity of the vagina, urethra, and anus in women/AFAB folks, this makes us especially susceptible to UTIs during sex, especially if any backdoor play is involved.

“UTIs often occur when bacteria from the gut (specifically coming from the anus) travels forward to the urethra,” says Twogood. “If there is anal play during sex, avoid touching the anus and then the vulva and vagina.”

So while your partner may have played some role in introducing the bacteria that ultimately caused a UTI to your urinary tract, you didn’t “catch” an infection from them—hence, UTIs not being contagious. The bacteria that wound up in your urethra could have been yours (the UTI is coming from inside the house) or theirs, but it’s not an illness that’s transmitted from one person to another the way, say, viruses are.

This Is Also Part of What Makes UTIs Different From STIs

One thing worth noting: UTIs are not the same thing as STIs. While UTIs can occur as a result of sex, they are not sexually transmitted the way STIs are. Again, you can’t “catch” a UTI from someone the way you might get STIs, like herpes or chlamydia, from an infected partner.

“STIs are bacteria, viruses, or parasites that travel through sexual fluid and are transmitted via varying types of sexual intercourse,” says board-certified ob-gyn Sameena Rahman, MD, founder of the Center for Gynecology and Cosmetics and a women’s health expert for holistic period care line, rhythm. UTIs, on the other hand, typically come from bacteria that naturally exists in other parts of the body and gets introduced to the urinary tract, thus causing an infection—but not a contagious or sexually transmittable one.

To be very, very clear, none of this is to suggest that UTIs should be considered in any way, shape, or form “morally” superior or otherwise preferable to STIs. Neither UTIs nor STIs should be stigmatized at all, period. UTIs aren’t “better” or less “taboo” than STIs—they’re just a different kind of infection. And, to be crystal eff-ing clear, that’s all an STI is: an infection.

So Does That Mean It’s Fine to Have Sex With a UTI?

Yes—and no. While UTIs aren’t contagious, “If someone has a UTI, it can potentially cause bacteria to travel to the other person’s urethra—however, that is unlikely,” says Shepherd.

This means that, from a medical perspective, it is generally safe to have sex with a UTI, says Twogood. But while you can’t “give” a UTI to a partner, there are a number of reasons you might want to hold off on sex until you’ve finished your antibiotics.

For one thing, you probably won’t really even be feeling up to it. “UTIs can cause quite a lot of bladder pain, and even bloating or generalized low abdominal and pelvic pain and inflammation. Not ideal for sexual activity,” says Twogood. “UTIs can also cause an increased urge to urinate, which can make sex uncomfortable.”

Not to mention, if you’re prone to post-sex UTIs, then hooking up while you’re getting over an active infection may put you at risk for a worse or recurring one. “When an infection is trying to be cleared from the body, exposing the body to an additional risk factor for that infection is not ideal,” says Twogood.

So while you likely don’t have to worry about passing your UTI to a partner, it’s probably best to hold off on getting it on until your urinary tract is clear. As Rahman puts it, having sex with a UTI “is not something that is generally recommended—but if you are up to it, you can do it.”

Long story short: UTIs are not contagious. But while you can’t technically blame that mediocre-at-best Hinge match for the flames engulfing your urinary tract, you definitely can resent them for it forever—full permission from me, bestie.

Headshot of Kayla Kibbe

Associate Sex & Relationships Editor

Kayla Kibbe (she/her) is the Associate Sex and Relationships Editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covers all things sex, love, dating, and relationships • She lives in Astoria, Queens and probably won’t stop talking about how great it is if you bring it up • Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

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