HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Sexually Transmitted Infections Series
Last Updated: 
October 2013

What is urethritis?

Urethritis is an inflammation of the male urethra. The urethra is a tube in the penis that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

What are the causes of urethritis?

Urethritis is often caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs) like gonorrhea (gonococcal urethritis), chlamydia, or herpes simplex (a virus). It can also be caused by other organisms that are not sexually transmitted; for example the normal bacteria that grow in the genital area can infect the urethra. Urethritis that is caused by anything other than gonorrhea is called non-gonococcal urethritis (NGU). For more information about gonorrhea and chlamydia, see HealthLinkBC Files #08a Gonorrhea and #08l Chlamydia.

How is it spread?

The sexually transmitted organisms that cause urethritis are spread through unprotected oral, vaginal or anal sex.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms can include a burning feeling when urinating, itching inside the urethra, or a clear to creamy yellow coloured fluid discharge from the urethra.

Some of the organisms that cause urethritis may not produce any symptoms. To find out if you have any of these infections, you must be examined by a health care provider and have lab tests completed.

What are the complications?

Some of potential complications of untreated urethritis include:

  • swelling and pain of one or both testicles, also known as epididymitis; or
  • infertility.

What is the treatment?

Urethritis that is caused by bacteria may be treated with antibiotic pills. In order to effectively treat the infection, it is important to follow the instructions for taking the treatment carefully and finish all the pills. It is also important that sexual partners are tested and receive treatment. To prevent re-infection, avoid having sex until after you and your partners have finished taking all of the medication.

How can I reduce my chance of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI)?

Practice safe sex by using a condom

When used as directed, male and female condoms help prevent the spread of many STIs, including HIV, during vaginal, anal and oral sex. Condoms are less effective at protecting against STIs transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, such as herpes simplex, genital warts (human papillomavirus or HPV), and syphilis.

Important things to remember when using condoms:

  • Check the condom package for damage and to ensure the expiry date has not passed.
  • Carefully open the package so that the condom does not tear.
  • Keep condoms away from sharp objects such as rings, studs, or piercings.
  • Store condoms at room temperature.
  • A new condom should be used every time you have sex.
  • Use only water-based lubricants with male latex condoms. Oil-based lubricants, such as petroleum jelly, lotion, or baby oil can weaken and destroy latex.
  • Avoid using spermicides containing nonoxynol-9 (N-9). It irritates sexual tissue and may increase the chance of getting an STI.

Get vaccinated

Some STIs, such as hepatitis A, B and human papillomavirus (HPV) can be prevented with vaccines. Talk to your health care provider about how to get these vaccinations.

Know your sexual health status

If you have recently changed sexual partners, or have multiple sex partners, getting regularly tested for STIs will tell you if you have an infection. Finding and treating an STI, (including HIV) reduces the chances of passing the infection on to your partner.

The more partners you have, the more likely you are to be exposed to a sexually transmitted infection.

Talk about prevention

Talk to your partner about STIs and how you would like to prevent them before having sex. If you are having trouble discussing safer sex with your partner, talk about it with your health care provider or a counselor.

For tips on how to talk to your partner, visit the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC) SmartSexResource at http://smartsexresource.com/sex-talk/talk-about-it.

Informing Partners

If you have a sexually transmitted infection and are sexually active, it is important to tell your sexual partners. This will enable them to make decisions about their health and getting tested.

For More Information

For more information on how you can reduce your chance of getting an STI, see HealthLinkBC File #08o Preventing Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).

BCCDC logo

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

Thanks to our partners and endorsers: