5 tips for talking to your partner about UTIs

5 min read

About the Author

Amelia Glynn is a former journalist and current brand writer for health and wellness startups. She’s also a grateful Uqora customer. As someone who constantly marvels at the beauty and complexity of the human body, she has fueled her fascination by volunteering as a sex educator, birth control and pregnancy counselor and HIV testing counselor. Her writing has appeared in Pregnancy, Yoga Journal, Dwell, Hemispheres, Common Ground, The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle and Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as numerous blogs.

About the author

Amelia Glynn is a former journalist and current brand writer for health and wellness startups. She’s also a grateful Uqora customer. As someone who constantly marvels at the beauty and complexity of the human body, she has fueled her fascination by volunteering as a sex educator, birth control and pregnancy counselor and HIV testing counselor. Her writing has appeared in Pregnancy, Yoga Journal, Dwell, Hemispheres, Common Ground, The Guardian, The San Francisco Chronicle and Our Bodies, Ourselves, as well as numerous blogs.

In the pandemic’s early days, my mama and brother fled the west coast. She moved back to Charleston to be closer to her sister and group of besties, while he reunited with his long-distance girlfriend in Chicago. Once again it was just my single self and my hound Alice filling our days with hikes and Netflix.

Dating can feel daunting even in the best of circumstances. Dating during the pandemic felt nearly impossible (if not irresponsible). But once June rolled around, I cautiously switched on my Bumble account. I needed to at least give it a try. Alice is good company, but she’s the quiet, brooding type and isn’t big on verbal communication.

When I met T. for a socially distanced cocktail, I was more than ready for adult company, conversation and distraction. The very idea of physical touch was thrilling. Soon after we started sleeping together, I started getting UTIs. They’ve been a chronic thing for me for years, and always seem to reappear with a new partner.

One day on the phone, T. asked me how I was and I answered honestly. “I have a UTI,” I said. He was silent. And then he seemed almost angry. He told me that his last long-term girlfriend and his ex-wife had also suffered from frequent UTIs. It was clearly a trigger. The conversation took an apocalyptic turn when he announced that he “couldn’t handle it” and “maybe we should break up.”

My first reaction was disbelief. Then indignation. I felt like shouting, “Um, too much for YOU to handle? I’m the one peeing fire every two seconds!” But I kept my cool and suggested that we talk about it in person.

Here’s what worked for us:

1. Pick a favorable time and place

When things got heated between T. and me, we took a time out. Trying to talk about tough things in the heat of the moment can often send the conversation—and the relationship—off a cliff. Meeting for tea on his back porch the next day felt calm, comfortable and strangely adult. It also gave us both a chance to cool off and figure out what we wanted to say.

During an initial infection, bacteria can form protective shields called biofilm that allow them to lay dormant in the urinary tract and hidden from the immune system and antibiotics.

2. Make space for both people's feelings

Talking about UTIs with a partner (especially a newer one—eep!) can feel excruciating. But in our case, we decided there was no other way out than through. We were going to test our communication skills big time and would either weather the storm or say so long. I went first and asked him to please listen without interrupting. I calmly explained what I was feeling (uncomfortable—physically and emotionally), but that it was manageable. I also shared what I was doing to help remedy my symptoms and that I was digging deeper into why I got UTIs so often. I felt empowered and he could clearly see that. Then it was T.’s turn to talk and for me to listen. He explained that he worried that the UTI was his fault and it made him hesitant to initiate sex. He didn’t want to repeat what had happened in his last two relationships.

The vaginal microbiome is critical for urinary health, and disruptions or imbalances can leave one vulnerable to UTIs.

3. Avoid the blame-shame game

Bodies are complicated. When they work, life is awesome. But sometimes things go sideways and that’s so normal. Often, it’s no one’s fault. UTIs (and yeast infections and BV, for that matter) are nothing to be ashamed of. Yes they can be frustrating and downright awful to deal with, but it’s all gonna be okay. Being a loving, empathetic and supportive partner is often the best thing we can do. And for someone suffering from a UTI, a little of all of those things goes a really long way.

Women with BV can have up to a 13.7x increased risk of UTI, according to studies examining the association between BV and UTIs. (3). Conversely, a normal vaginal pH is now known to help protect from recurrent UTIs.

The relationship between bacterial vaginosis / yeast infections and antibiotic treatment of urinary tract infections can lead to cyclical infections.

4. Put a few easy rules in place

Since E. coli is responsible for the majority of UTIs, there are things we can do to try to keep those pesky bacteria where they belong. Sometimes T. and I would shower together before sex so we were both extra clean. He also knew to keep track of which fingers went where and that when I got up to pee right after sex it wasn’t because I didn’t want to cuddle. None of these things are foolproof means for preventing UTIs, but they can help you feel more like a team. They give your partner concrete things they can do to help keep you healthy and you get to bask in that feel-good support.

A UTI is a bacterial infection, not a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and is not considered a contagious condition.

5. Get the straight scoop

T. asked me if a UTI can be passed back and forth between partners and if he should get tested. Dr. Google isn’t the most reliable source for stuff like this so I encouraged him to reach out to his primary care doc and I did the same. Information is power and it’s always best to seek out an expert you know and trust.

Talking with T. helped me realize that, in a relationship, a UTI happens to two people, not just one. In the past, UTIs had made intimacy difficult for T. and they made me feel not just physically uncomfortable, but also ashamed and embarrassed. We both feared rejection. What started out as an awkward conversation ended in understanding (and a steamy make-out sesh). Who knew that talking about UTIs could make us feel closer. But it did.

Sex may not be introducing new E. coli to the urinary tract but may be triggering new infections caused by old bacteria.


Spin to win