Has your vagina ever felt just… off? When the colour or consistency of your discharge changes it’s easy to freak out. Relax! First thing’s first. Head to the doctor to rule out BV or thrush. Sometimes that means taking some medication. And yet sometimes it means being assured that what you’re experiencing is within the normal range of discharge, even if it feels different to you. Well, in both cases, you might want to check out under there. That’s right—your underwear.
Sometimes our underwear choices can affect the health of our vagina. It can delay your recovery from vaginal infections, or just disrupt your normal ebb and flow of discharge. Read on to find out how.
Discharge is a normal, healthy part of having a vagina. It shows you that the ‘self-cleaning’ function of your vagina is working properly. The amount can vary throughout your cycle, but it’s also true that certain types of fabric might make you more ‘aware’ of your discharge.
100% cotton is an ideal material for underwear because it is breathable and also absorbs some of your discharge. You might notice more discharge and an uncomfortable sensation or more noticeable scent when you’re wearing your ultra-sleek no-line panties made from synthetic materials. And the same goes for your cute lacy briefs and your workout leggings, unfortunately. It’s not that synthetic materials are uniformly bad—in fact, some are great at wicking away moisture. (And that’s especially important when you’re swearing during a workout.) But you can have sensitivities to different fabrics that affect you.
So what to do if you notice an issue? Try wearing pairs that have a cotton sewn-in lining, and limit your wear to just a few hours when you’re wearing whatever outfit the underwear work with. (We certainly own a few skirts and dresses that only work with a specific style of panties!)
These tips can work for some, but some people find that anything other than 100% cotton causes discomfort!
Are thongs really bad for your vagina? The answer is not as clear cut as this barely-there cut of drawers. Basically, if you don’t have an infection currently, and your thong is not too tight, you probably won’t have an issue.
However, if you are trying to get over an infection, vaginal or urinary, a thong probably it’s helping. The style usually requires more pressure across your vulva due to wear the leg elastics sit. Couple that with movement back and forth across your urethra and anus? It might take longer for your infection to pass. And, if you pair that with some of the more ‘fun’ non-cotton fabrics that thongs are made of, you might be out of commission for longer than you planned.
Your Laundry Routine
Did your mother warn you about wearing clean underwear every day with odd threats about going to the emergency room? Whether she did or not, you probably know that it’s crucial to wear a clean pair of underwear every day. You’ll avoid embarrassing odours and reduce your risk of bacterial infections. Some of our fancier pairs require handwashing, while most we can throw into the washer on high.
Either way, what you wash with and how you’re rinsing could impact the health of your vagina. Many of us are sensitive to harsh chemicals and scented products to different degrees. And while some of these might be fine to clean your clothing, they can sometimes cause discomfort. Try switching to a gentle or hypoallergenic formula. Or, if you JUST bought a huge container of detergent, try seeing if an extra rinse cycle can make things manageable for you. And don’t forget to check if it’s your fabric softener that’s the culprit!
Does That Mean I’m Doomed to a Life of Granny Panties?
Hey now, deep breaths! First of all, just because you find that thongs or non-cotton materials make your vagina unhappy doesn’t mean saying goodbye to sexy underwear. There is a wide range of different underwear styles, from bikini cut to cheeky boy shorts. They come in high-waist and low-rise and can include all types of fun colours, no-show lace edges and other cute details. Just check out The Lingerie Addict’s amazing blog—it will open your eyes to a wide range of underwear styles. She’s also great at covering inclusive sizing!
If you can’t bear to part with your lucky pair, consider limiting your wear to special occasions rather than all-day wear. And when working out, always remember to change out of your sweaty clothes as soon as you’re finished!
Remember: Every Vagina is a Little Bit Different
Vaginas are pretty special and unique, aren’t they? (Not just in terms of how what they look like, either!) What works for one vagina might be a total disaster for another. Your roommate might have no problem using the free detergent in your college dorm on her sparkly spandex micro G-strings. Meanwhile, your bits might feel like they’re about to have a meltdown if you even LOOK at her laundry hamper.
But, if you’re noticing discomfort or unusual discharge that can’t be attributed to an STI or other infection, try these suggestions out and see if they help! If issues persist, go back to your GP and let them know all you’ve tried, and what symptoms you’re still experiencing.
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.