How an Awful UTI Derailed My Sex Life But Saved My Relationship

With the advent of Tinder and [insert literally any other dating app that prioritizes hotness], most people nowadays stumble into half-baked relationships by swiping, banging a bunch, and retroactively bonding over the fact that literally everyone seems to have HPV. It’s fair to say that slowly getting to know one another has gone the way of VCRs or the Sony Walkman. In fact, modern courtship reads like a Best Buy ad: Buy Now, Pay Later! But what would happen if we actually spent some time learning all the cool functions of that plasma TV before we impulse-fucked it? After an annoying health situation, I found out the hard way.

Beyond simply being a product of my sex-positive generation (or perhaps it was symbiotic — who can tell?), my dating habits hat been decidedly unemotional my whole life. I’d honestly just never been one for long walks on the beach and sharing drippy ice cream cones while communicating in flowery language, and holy hell I’d rather clean up cat vomit than be forced to sit through a Jane Austen film. So getting to the sex always sounded good in my book: enjoy each other’s company until you no longer enjoyed each other’s company and then move on. Things were fun. And light. And generally lacked any discernible investment.

When I met Zach, things started the same as all my other millennial fairy tales. It went something like this: we hung out a couple times. Then there was a penis in my face. Then we were joyfully exchanging fluids a while. Then, oh hey, we were "dating." TA-DA. Cue trumpets. Prepare the white horses. Into the sunset we go! Zach and I were enjoying each other’s company without the hassle of doing dumb crap like making each other paper canaries, and that worked out great for me. For exactly six weeks.

Then came the bad news. One morning I went to the bathroom and things didn’t feel right. My doctor informed me I had a urinary tract infection and couldn’t have intercourse until it cleared. (For those following along at home, that’s usually when a bunch of sex causes bacteria to be pushed up the urethra. SO FUN). Okay, I thought, I’ll pull a time out on the sex and call Zach when this is all over. And that’s exactly what I did. I took a breather and “wasn’t feeling well” for seven days. See ya when my urethra is feelin’ spiffy, Zach! But, after the seven days was up, I needed another round of antibiotics because the infection had traveled to my kidneys, and I realized this was gonna be a while.

After I picked up my second round of antibiotics, I awkwardly phoned Zach from the CVS parking lot: “So, um… I have… a urinary tract infection… so… turns out I can’t hang out tonight… or have sex… for a while... so that’s… what’s happening.”

It’s not like we had the foundation to sustain the relationship so early on. What would we do in the interim, grab milkshakes at the local diner?

I nearly broke my face from wincing so hard. Zach seemed confused. “What exactly is a urinary tract infection? And can I catch it?” he asked. I tried to downplay it, and explained that no, it was not catchable, and men don’t frequently get them because their urethras are much longer so it’s harder for bacteria to get all the way up – but I stopped speaking when I felt I was reducing our steamy sex life to a very clinical biology lesson which sounded decidedly un-steamy.

He asked if he could do anything, but I told him I just had to wait it out. Then I linked him to an article on UTI’s which would explain the whole thing better than I could. That night, he sent me a picture of his fridge stocked with cranberry juice he got for me. I appreciated the gesture but didn’t know where we went from here. I liked Zach. And Zach liked me. But we were hook up buddies forced into indefinite celibacy six weeks in. Was this really going to last? It’s not like we had the foundation to sustain this relationship so early on. And even if we tried, what would we do in the interim, grab milkshakes at the local diner and exchange teddy bears? Barf a thousand barfs.

A couple days later, Zach actually asked if I wanted to get a brownie sundae at a local diner. And because I just wasn’t ready to end things, I agreed. He picked me up and we drove to the diner. Then we sat in the diner. Then we looked around the diner. “Cool tiling on the floor,” he said. “Yup, tiling,” I remarked. Oh my God, tiling?? This was off to a splendid start, I thought. I figured if we started discussing the weather, I’d “go to the bathroom” and never come back.

But then we ordered chocolate brownies with vanilla ice cream, double chocolate sauce, and no whipped cream — it turns out we both hated whipped cream. So, hey, there was that! Then we discovered that Pulp Fiction was our agreed upon favorite Tarantino film. And then we found out that both of us were dying to go to Italy and had never been. We were small talking after a month and a half of solid boning. It was unquestionably backwards. After an hour or so, it was also turning out to be... not bad. Now that sex had been officially yanked off the table it was like we were re-meeting each other in an alternate, PG-13 universe. We stuffed ourselves with chocolate brownies, saw a Tin Fey movie, and went back to my apartment. Then we Netflix’d, platonically chilled, and fell asleep. That was it. Not our typical kind of exciting. But kinda not awful.

We learned a whole new language of how to be intimate without actually being intimate.

We continued like this for the couple months it took my very persistent UTI to go away and had a fucking great time in lieu of the actual fucking. We ate sushi and took day trips. We played mini golf and discovered a gymnasium full of trampolines where you can leap into a pit of foam and OMFG you guys, that was awesome! We dry humped a lot and then discussed how hilarious it was that we were dry humping a lot and uh oh what if my mom walks in? There was a newness to it and an unusual intimacy about it. When sex was removed from the equation, we were forced to do an interpersonal deep dive of what it meant to connect in other ways. We truly communicated and we heard one another. We looked out for each other. He let me eat the mushrooms off his plate and I always gave him my rice. We learned a whole new language of how to be intimate without actually being intimate… and, it turns out, that was way more intimate. I think I even got him a teddy bear. (I know.) I’ve become that which I hate most, and I kinda don’t hate it?

It took me a couple months of celibacy to realize I had been using sex as the primary means of connecting in my past relationships. Granted, women should be free to express their sexual desires in whatever way they see fit because it’s 2017 and if you and your new partner want to experiment with all the different things you can do with a donut, then that’s chill. But it’s important to not let sex become a relationship crutch purely because both parties involved have neglected doing the emotional legwork. And if you’re hoping for something beyond casual sex, checking in with your partner becomes absolutely essential to make sure you do not become two people who are just… alone together.

So while I definitely wouldn’t recommend landing yourself a UTI, I would encourage people to shake up their routines from time to time in order to make unhelpful patterns more apparent. And though I’m still not placing any antiquated sex rules on myself, I am much more open to taking it slow and truly exploring the person I’m with. But, for the record, cat vomit still tops Pride & Prejudice.

Follow Cara on Twitter.

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