Sexual folklore says that vagina-havers must dutifully pee after sex, if they want to avoid urinary tract infections. Basic intuition, meanwhile, says we should probably pee before, if we don't want to be uncomfortable and distracted. But Mother Nature calls when she calls. And if we were able to have more control over timing, things like long car trips and airplane window seats would likely be less inconvenient, bladder-straining experiences. Yet here we are.
Either way, most of the chatter surrounding bathroom trips before or after sex revolves around preventing UTIs, which result when foreign bacteria enter into the urethra and move up the urinary tract to the bladder and/or kidneys. Penetrative sex can potentially cause the penis to push bacteria into the urethra, hence the concern. What's more, according to one 2017 study out of the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, a particular strain of vaginal bacteria—Gardnerella vaginalis—could produce recurrent UTIs by cueing dormant E.coli from infections past, to start multiplying again (yikes).
Enter: The notorious bathroom trip. Going pee washes out the urinary tract, clearing away some of that bacteria before it can reach the bladder and proliferate like crazy, thereby helping some women avoid UTIs. For this reason, you've probably been hitting the toilet pre- and post-coital throughout your sexual history. But is it actually essential?
According to Dr Sarah Horvath, a gynecologist in Philadelphia, it's probably not medically necessary for you to pee directly before sex. What's more, Horvath tells Women's Health that most women don't need to stress too much about peeing after sex, either, unless they're prone to UTIs. But frequent UTI-sufferers should make even more of a point to adopt good sexual health practices: Make sure your partner is clean (both in terms of STIs and hygeine), wash your hands frequently, and wear condoms with new partners. You should also stay hydrated— this keeps fluids moving through your urinary tract and helps flush out bacteria, Horvath says.
Dr Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale University, agrees. "Although I always encourage my patients to [pee] before and after sex, there really isn't ton of scientific data to support the habits," she tells Women's Health. "I do encourage all of my patients to stay well hydrated, and to [pee] frequently."
If you get UTIs often, Minkin recommends checking in with a health care provider, and incorporating cranberry juice into your daily diet. Or, if that's too much sugar, try cranberry extract pills, which are available at health stores. "Cranberry keeps the bacteria from sticking to the walls of the bladder and setting up shop there," she says.
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"But what if I just don't have to go?" you may wonder, or, "Must I immediately ruin the post-coital moment by hurtling out of bed to empty my bladder?" According to Horvath, there's no rush: Just go to the bathroom the next time you feel the need. Holding in urine can up your odds of developing a UTI or bladder infection. So even if it dampens the romance, if you gotta go, go.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US