Healthy Body

Do You Really Need To Throw Out Your Underwear After 6 Months? An OB/GYN Weighs In

Mary Grace Garis

Photo: Stocksy / IVAN OZEROV
I have underwear that—much like the ancient city of Rome—have seen the rise and fall of many men. I have underwear that have lived through three presidencies. I have underwear that are low-rise. And now, I have concerns. A TikTok that recently went viral suggested that it's necessary to throw out your underwear every six to nine months because laundering them won't get rid of all the bacteria and pathogens. And while I love a good underwear refresh, I certainly don't do a full overhaul of my supply that often. So I'm left wondering: How often should you throw out your underwear, honestly, according to a pro?

Well first, breathe easy because gynecologist Jen Gunter, MD, author of The Vagina Bible, has some comforting words for you. She took to TikTok to address the video and confirmed that there's no specific reason your underwear would become an "infectious catastrophe" after the half-year mark.

"When people tell you you need to do really special things with your underwear, that's just an extension of purity culture," says Dr. Gunter in the video. "It's this idea that the vagina and vulva are delicate and sort of the harbinger of an infectious apocalypse and you have all this special sort of maintenance. It's not true at all. You should wash your underwear like you wash other things that touch your body, but they don't magically become an issue at six to nine months."

@drjengunterNo, you don’t need to replace your underwear every 6-9 months. A GYNO explains. ##vaginalhealth ##vulva ##gynocologist ##inverted♬ original sound - jennifer gunter

So while it's imperative that they be washed and changed regularly, your old (clean) undies won't cause any annoyances, like a UTI or yeast infection, just by nature of the underwear being old. The vagina is self-cleaning, which is also why many products attempting to "clean" it (for example, douching and steaming) are also a byproduct of purity culture...and simply unnecessary.

"The vagina, meaning inside the body, has a complex ecosystem that is involved in protecting the body against infection," Dr. Gunter tells Well+Good. "This ecosystem is also involved in sexual pleasure and reproduction. "Attempts to clean intravaginally disrupts this ecosystem by killing the healthy bacteria, stripping away the protective mucus, and removing the cells floating in the vagina as the cells are shed. Some actually trap bad bacteria while others break down and release sugar to feed the good bacteria."

And unless you're bunching up your panties and shoving it inside, your underwear won't even reach the vaginal cavity. "Underwear, which is external and touches the vulva, doesn't impact the vagina," says Dr. Gunter. With that in mind her advice about when to replace your undies is to only do so if they're specifically uncomfortable to you, with one caveat: "If they dig in, that could cause skin irritation on the vulva."

So, if you have a pair that's crushing your bits in a camel-toe-esuqe way, perhaps you can consider replacing them sooner than later. Otherwise, those dingy but oh-so-cozy clean granny panties from college (or, ahem, high school) can totally hang for a while longer.

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