After the flu and common cold, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are the most common medical complaint among women in their reproductive years. UTIs are far more common among women than among men. Most women will develop a UTI at some time in their lives, and many will have recurrences.
Specific Risk Factors in Women
Structure of the Female Urinary Tract. In general, the higher risk in women is mostly due to the shortness of the female urethra, which is 1.5 inches compared to 8 inches in men. Bacteria from fecal matter at the anal opening can be easily transferred to the opening of the urethra.
Sexual Behavior. Frequent or recent sexual activity is the most important risk factor for urinary tract infection in young women. Nearly 80% of all urinary tract infections in premenopausal women occur within 24 hours of intercourse. UTIs are very rare in celibate women. However, UTIs are NOT sexually transmitted infections.
In general, it is the physical act of intercourse itself that produces conditions that increase susceptibility to the UTI bacteria, with some factors increasing the risk. For example, women having sex for the first time or who have intense and frequent sex after a period of abstinence are at risk for a condition called "honeymoon cystitis".
Review Date: 06/17/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.