Women's bodies are complicated mechanisms. I mean, we can grow a whole human being inside of us – that’s pretty crazy, if you ask me. But, unfortunately, some subjects that pertain to women’s sexual health are taboo and stigmatized in today’s society. In fact, until you actually experience an uncomfortable sensation in your vagina, you might never learn about the mysteries of urinary tract infections, or UTIs.
A “painful, burning sensation that’s really inconvenient.”
That's how Communication sophomore Amy Sanchez described what it feels like to contract a UTI.
UTIs are caused by the presence of bacteria in the bladder, according to David J. Klumpp, a Feinberg associate professor in urology and microbiology-immunology.
There are many ways in which someone can contract an infection, and although most people think UTIs are contracted through sexual acts, a lack of hygiene or other reasons can also cause a UTI to develop, Klumpp said.
Women are more susceptible to UTIs than men because women have shorter urethras, the tube that leads from the bladder to the exterior through which urine passes, Klumpp said. It's easier for fecal bacteria to gain access to the vaginal area.
In short, vaginas are more of an open door for bacteria than penises are.
UTIs are the second most common type of infectious disease and approximately 50 percent of women will suffer from one during their lifetimes, Klumpp said. Yet, many aren’t aware of what a UTI is or how to go about treating and preventing it.
Contracting the infection can be scary for those who have it for the first time and are unsure of what is happening to their bodies and what is causing them pain.
“I really didn’t know what it was at the time so I was pretty embarrassed about what it could be," said Sanchez, who contracted the infection at a young age. "Even though I had never had sex before, since I was so young I just assumed it was some weird STD that I had caught."
To this day, though, she said, “I really don’t know how you would prevent one. I’m just rolling the dice.”
SESP junior Nicole Romane said that when she got a UTI, she went to a physician who prescribed her antibiotics that helped subdue the pain and get rid of the infection.
“There have been studies shown in patients and in mice that treating the pain is just as effective as treating the bacteria,” Klumpp said. Theoretically, you could take ibuprofen to treat the infection, but it's still a good idea to go to a physician if you are unsure of what to do or what is happening to your body.
There are several household methods believed to prevent and treat UTIs, such as drinking organic cranberry juice or peeing right after sexual intercourse.
“There is no convincing data that suggest that cranberry juice is effective,” Klumpp said.
But, he said, peeing after sex could be helpful because “it would help to flush out any bacteria that may have gained access to the urethra during sex, for example.”
Because UTIs are so common, one might not think that there would be a negative stigma around them. But unfortunately, many people are often quick to judge women if they have problems with their vaginas, assuming that it’s somehow related to promiscuous sex and blaming women for not being careful enough.
“Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor,” Romane said. “Don’t think you can get rid of it on your own, especially the first time, because you definitely need to go get medicine. I thought, ‘Oh, I can just drink cranberry juice until I get better,’ but that’s not how it works. If you get one, go get help, it will get so much better. Don’t wait as long as I did.”