(Don't) Light my Fire: cystitis and sexual intercourse

It is some time since the supposedly swinging 60s and The Doors first belted out that classic hit. Yet 50 years on, people are still embarrassed talking to their doctor about 'it'. I'm never really surprised that when I ask patients about 'it' they often turn puce and look a bit shifty… and neither age nor gender stops this being a delicate topic. Prying is not my intention I can assure you; however, sexual habits can be very relevant when it comes to your health.

One of the commonest reasons women attend their doctor's surgery is due to cystitis or urinary tract infections (UTIs). UTIs are incredibly common in women; over half have at least one in their lifetime. Bacteria travelling into the bladder via the urethra cause the majority of UTIs. Since the opening of the urethra, vagina and anus all lie in close proximity to one another, bacteria from the bowel can very easily get into the bladder causing an infection. It has long been know that sexual intercourse often triggers urine infections. This is due to friction occurring at the opening of the urethra, encouraging bacteria into the urinary tract and causing mischief.

So don't be surprised if you see your doctor about burning when you pee, and he or she starts enquiring about your bedroom antics. Knowing what causes your UTIs may be half the battle in preventing them.

If you are one of the many people who get frequent UTIs triggered by sex, there are a few things you can do to help.

1) Washing 'down below' before intercourse

2) Using extra lubricants during intercourse, such as KY Jelly®

3) Emptying your bladder before and after intercourse

4) Drinking cranberry juice or taking regular cranberry tablets

5) Talking to your GP about taking a single antibiotic tablet after intercourse. Having a supply at home on 'standby' can be helpful in preventing infections from taking hold.

Dr Jessica Garner is a GP and health blogger. Visit her blog here.