How to Tell If It's a UTI vs STD

If you're confused about your symptoms and whether they might be indicative of a UTI or STD, this breakdown can help.

How Can You Tell If You Have a UTI vs an STD

When it comes to your sex life, there are a lot of acronyms out there — the fun ones, such as DTF or DTR are just as confusing to keep up with as the more serious likes of UTI, STI, and STD. While no one really likes to talk about the latter three, it's sexually and medically important (and responsible!) to know the differences between them, so you can recognize the symptoms and seek proper treatment if and when you need it. Here's the difference between UTIs and STIs, how to tell if it's a UTI vs STD/STI depending on your symptoms, and what to do about it.

What Is a UTI?

A UTI is an infection of the bladder, specifically, the lower tract which includes the urethra, explains Meir Olcha, M.D., a reproductive endocrinologist at Morgan Fertility. "UTI stands for urinary tract infection, which is also sometimes referred to as acute cystitis in medical terminology."

But is a UTI an STD? Nope. UTIs are not a sexually transmitted disease or infection, though the condition is often mistakenly categorized as such. "It's not necessarily caused by sexual contact or partner-to-partner transmission, but rather involves bacteria from the rectum or skin entering the urinary tract," explains ​​Alyssa Dweck, M.S., M.D., FACOG and Uqora medical advisor. This is why many medical professionals recommend vulva owners urinate after intercourse to help expel any excess bacteria that may build up during foreplay and sex.

"It's not a myth. Peeing after sex clears the urethra of bacteria and can reduce the transmission of UTIs and STIs," affirms Goody Howard, M.S.W., M.P.H., resident sex educator for sexual hygiene and body care company Royal.

That said, sex isn't the only way bacteria can get into your urethra and cause a UTI. If you're wiping back to front after using the bathroom (especially after pooping), you could spread bacteria from your rectum to your urethra, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The hormonal changes that menopause causes can increase your risk of UTIs, as can certain conditions that can weaken your immune system (since your body isn't able to fight bacterias as well), such as diabetes, according to the American Urological Association. Using spermicides or a diaphragm as contraception may increase your risk of contracting a UTI, according to the Mayo Clinic; research suggests it's because they can both cause changes your vaginal flora (aka healthy bacteria). (

If you do develop a UTI, the most common symptoms include burning with urination, frequency of urination (even if very little is coming out), and urgency of urination, says Dr. Olcha. He warns that symptoms may also include pain, fever, chills, and blood in the urine should the infection go untreated, which is why seeking medical attention is always advised. Another reason to see a doc? Sometimes these symptoms can reflect something entirely different as in, yes, an STI or STD, says Dr. Dweck.

What Is an STI or STD?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) both refer to health issues that can be transmitted during sexual activity. You may have heard them used interchangeably in the past, but there is a slight difference between the two. Something can only be considered a disease if symptoms are present; therefore, sexually transmitted infections with symptoms can be considered STDs, whereas those without symptoms are considered STIs. As such, all STDs fall under the umbrella of STIs. This is an important distinction because 66 percent of STIs come with no symptoms. For that reason, in recent years the term STI has replaced STD, especially among health professionals, says Dr. Olcha. (More here: What's the Different Between an STI and STD?)

The most common STIs are gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, genital warts, HIV, hepatitis, and trichomoniasis, says Dr. Dweck. They can have variable symptoms including painful urination, vaginal discharge, bleeding with sex, vaginal odor, rash, genital bumps — or, again, can present with no symptoms at all. They can be transmitted through sexual contact, including vaginal, anal, and oral sex — though some STIs can also be spread through non-sexual means such as via blood, and some can be transmitted from mother to child during pregnancy and childbirth as well, according to the World Health Organization. (Also peep: The Complete Guide to At-Home STD Tests)

How Can You Tell the Difference Between a UTI and STI?

This is where it gets tricky. Because the symptoms of UTIs and STDs can overlap, it may be difficult to tell exactly what you're dealing with. In fact, one study found that ER doctors misdiagnosed STIs and UTIs more than half the time.

"Certain STIs including gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomonas might cause symptoms such as painful or frequent urination, similar to a UTI," says Dr. Dweck. Patients with herpes who are having an outbreak sometimes complain that they experience burning when urinating, says Dr. Olcha; however, herpes usually presents with painful vesicles (bumps), which is not a symptom of UTIs. (See: Everything You Need to Know About Herpes and How to Get Tested for It)

This all sounds scary, but rest assured: A quick visit to your ob-gyn can clear the air. To determine if you have a UTI, your doctor will analyze a urine sample for bacteria or high levels of white blood cells, which are signs of infection, according to the AUA, or send a urine culture to a lab. If they do indeed think you have a UTI, your doc will likely prescribe a round of antibiotics to clear the infection. Some doctors may also provide a mild bladder analgesic(a pain relief medication) to provide quicker relief, says Dr. Dweck. (

Depending on your symptoms — or if you think there's a possibility it may be something other than a UTI — your doctor may recommend you do an STI test as well. If they don't offer or recommend it, you can always ask to do an STI test. (After all, it can't hurt — and here's how often you should be getting tested for STIs anyway.) STI tests are analyzed in a lab and often take a few to come back with results. (

If you're tested for STIs, you'll want to avoid having sex until you have the results. But the same goes for if you have a UTI. Although you can technically have sex with a UTI since it isn't contagious, it will likely be uncomfortable and it may cause further bacteria to build up, exacerbating the infection, says Dr. Olcha. So, it's in your best interest to hold off until you're recovered.

What you can (and should) do if you have a UTI, however, is "hydrate, hydrate, hydrate," advises Taylor Sparks, erotic educator and founder of Organic Loven. And the age-old cranberry juice trick may have some merit — "cranberry juice is helpful because proanthocyanidins, an active ingredient in cranberry juice, helps keep bacteria from attaching to urinary tract walls," she says, though research findings are inconclusive, according to the MayoClinic. Dr. Dweck also recommends avoiding caffeine and alcohol as they are "bladder irritants."

No matter what you have going on, a visit to your doctor to confirm the sitch — whether it's a UTI vs STD or STI, and the appropriate course of treatment — can have you feeling better, fast. (Next read: Your Guide to Dealing with a Positive STI Diagnosis)

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