Your vagina might be a special and beautiful flower, but it also happens to be a breeding ground for bacteria. The warm, moist environment between your legs provides the perfect environment for these types of organisms to thrive, and if you don't keep it clean, you run the risk of creating a laundry list of problems for your lady parts. "The risk of wearing dirty undergarments increases your chance for skin irritation or vulvar dermatitis, malodors, yeast infections, and bacterial vaginitis," says Tia Marie Guster, MD, a board-certified OBGYN in Atlanta.
And that's not all. "You can develop a rash, and trapped moisture from vaginal discharge can lead to fungal and yeast infections," says Jodie Horton, MD, an OBGYN and the chief wellness advisor at Love Wellness. "Chafing can occur due to the moisture that irritates the outside of the vagina, and not changing your underwear to a dry, clean pair can lead to vaginal redness and irritation. Dirty underwear can also have small traces of feces that can spread to the vagina and bladder and cause vaginal and bladder infections."
The longer you wear your underwear, the dirtier it's going to get—and the higher your risk will be for any of those less-than-fun situations listed above. "Underwear is the same as all other clothing in that extended wear leads to a build-up of the bacteria on the garment," says Dr. Horton. How often you should actually be swapping yours for a fresh pair depends on a few different factors, so you'll want to keep an eye (or, um, a nose) on any tell-tale signs that yours are dirty. "Generally, odor, staining, and irritation from the underwear are three things that can tell you it may be time to change undergarments," says Dr. Guster. "Menstruation and heavy vaginal discharge are good examples of ways underwear can become soiled." While some people may opt to wear pads or panty liners as a way to remedy these issues, extended use of these can cause irritation, so Dr. Horton says you're better off changing your underwear more frequently, instead.
While you should generally plan to pop on a fresh pair of panties once a day, there are certain things that may make you want to up that number. "Activities like working out and personal hygiene will increase the population of bacteria," says Dr. Horton. "Your underwear is next to your vulva, which is one of the most sensitive areas of your body, so it should be changed every day. They are not like your jeans, which can be worn a couple of times before washing."
If you want a pair of underwear that will stay clean for as long as possible, look for loose-fitting briefs made from cotton or bamboo. "They are breathable and absorbent, and bamboo also keeps the vulva cool when it’s hot and sweaty down below," says Dr. Horton. "Synthetic materials like nylon and spandex are not breathable and can trap moisture and heat, which can increase your risk for infections." So, uh, for the sake of your vagina, remember to change your underwear every day.
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