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What to Wear ‘Down There’

By Katie McHugh, MDJanuary 25, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

Ever wonder if your panty preferences have any impact on your health? Is one fabric better than another? What about style (looking at you, thong)? Can you prevent problems down there just by wearing the right underwear?

Favored Fabric?

My grandmother always told me to wear only cotton underwear. Her advice is pretty common – a lot of people suggest that wearing cotton underwear will reduce infections, improve skin conditions, and improve or reduce odors. Studies done on the matter have shown conflicting results, but mostly, the consensus is that fabric doesn’t play much a role at all in infections and irritation.

However, if you have chronic irritation, constant itching, or recurrent infections, silk underwear may help reduce symptoms. This is particularly helpful for a condition called lichen simplex chronicus, which is a thickening of the vulvar skin because of constant itching and scratching. The silk fabric has been shown to reduce the external irritation and can even decrease the amount of medicated cream patients need.

Other than those chronic issues, the only time you need to choose a specific fabric is if you know the underwear will get wet. So when you get dressed for the gym, reach for cotton or other moisture wicking fabric. These may also help to reduce chafing during exercise.

Is a Thong Wrong?

Ever since the thong was introduced in 1974, there have been all kinds of controversies and concern about the problems that thongs might cause for your health. The main anti-thong argument is that the string of fabric that crosses the anus transmits bacteria up to the vagina or urethra (where the pee comes out) and cause infections.

Lucky for g-string fans, those concerns are unfounded. Many studies have shown that the style of underwear – including the thong – does not increase chances of developing infections of any kind, including vaginal or urinary tract infections.

Okay to Go Commando?

What if you don’t like having anything between you and the world? Like many things in life, there’s a time and a place for that. While you’re not any more likely to catch a disease without underwear on, you won’t be able to contain any discharge or odors either. And if you are on your period or frequently have urinary incontinence, you will probably want to stick with underwear.

But sometimes commando can be good way to go. If you’re experiencing irritation down there, ditching the underwear may help your skin by allowing more air flow and reducing the moisture (assuming you’re wearing a skirt, that is).

And it’s very common to go panty-less when working out. Most clothing designed for exercise has a cotton crotch, which wicks away moisture the same as underwear would. And when you’re at the gym, it’s difficult to feel great working out with a wedgie and a visible panty line.

Bottom line: panties don’t typically cause health problems, but the right panty (or lack thereof) might ease discomfort from conditions that already exist.

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