This article was first published in The Skeptical Inquirer.
Oh, look, another UTI-based fiction! Last time I told you how peeing after sex is not the UTI-deterrent you might think it is. This time it’s the idea of wiping “front to back” being necessary to avoid urinary infections. As it turns out, this idea is also not true, at least in adults with fine motor control.
As Dr. Jennifer Gunter, OB/GYN, writes on her blog The Vajenda, “The idea is to not drag fecal matter across the skin and introduce UTI-causing bacteria into the vagina, where it then might take up shop before heading to the urethra and bladder.” This seems sound reasoning until you take a bathroom trip as a vagina owner and get some hands-on experience with the relevant details.
Dr. Gunter writes, “While you can’t see what you are doing, you can most certainly feel what is happening with a good degree of precision. It is entirely possible to limit your toilet paper contact to the anal area” with no risk of cross-contamination. Yes, you should avoid dragging feces into your vagina or urethral opening, but that does not necessarily necessitate wiping from front to back. If you prefer to wipe from anus to perineum, go ahead.
Wiping direction is not included in advice from the American Urogynecological Association or American College of Obstetrician and Gynecology for preventing UTIs. So, go forth with confidence in wiping however you feel best. Besides, as Dr. Gunter points out, the very air around your genitals is already teeming with fecal bacteria sent upward from the toilet bowl.