As crazy as it sounds, the type of underwear you choose can actually impact the health of your vulva (the female genital area!). Female anatomy is super sensitive, and while everyone’s body is different, certain materials can make you more susceptible to bacterial infections or irritation.
Bacteria grow and thrive in wet and hot areas, and the vaginal discharge that’s produced down there already contributes to the moisture. It’s important that this moisture is either air-dried or absorbed by your underwear so that bacteria doesn’t have the chance to grow, and certain materials do this better than others. Cotton underwear for example is extremely breathable and doesn’t trap moisture or heat. Meanwhile, synthetic materials do get hot and sweaty, possibly increasing the risk of infection.
Regardless of whether you’re wearing cotton underwear or another material like polyester or nylon, it’s never a good idea to stay in wet or sweaty underwear (or even a wet bathing suit) for a prolonged period of time. The friction of the wet and hot material can lead to skin irritation and skin chafing, also making you more prone to ingrown hairs.
A similar issue can arise with wearing thongs. The tight material can cause friction which can lead to skin irritation, ingrowns, and bacteria transfer, especially since the thin thong strip is moving between the closely located vulva and anus. If you prefer wearing thongs, cotton thongs are generally recommended over other fabrics.
Some people prefer to sleep without underwear, letting their vulva “breathe” and taking a break from constricting material. If that’s not your thing, some other options are loose fitting cotton underpants, or shorts/boxers that let air flow.
Ultimately, it’s important to wear the underwear that feels most comfortable to you. However, if you’ve experienced issues such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections (UTIs), ingrown hairs, or other itching, burning, and/or redness, it might be worth considering what underwear you’re wearing. Sometimes even things like the dye used to color fabric can irritate people who already have sensitive skin. If you have these problems frequently, make sure to also speak with a doctor.
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