It's hard to get excited about cotton underwear: they're not particularly sexy, seem to stain easily, and can lose their shape and become baggy pretty quickly.
But gynecologists swear by them for vaginal hygiene. "Any time women are having problems with vaginal infections, we tend to recommend cotton underwear as sort of the least triggering fabric," says Dr. Kelly Culwell, an OBGYN and former medical officer at the World Health Organization. "It's one of our many steps to vaginal and vulvar hygiene."
So, what are the benefits of wearing cotton underwear over fabrics like modal, polyester, or other synthetic blends? Here are a few of the vaginal issues a pair of 100 percent cotton undies can help prevent:
The National Institutes of Health report that 75 percent of adult women have suffered from a yeast infection at some point in their lives. Symptoms include vaginal itching or soreness, abnormal discharge, pain during sex, and discomfort urinating. Yeast infections are caused by the overgrowth of the Candida fungus, which can be exacerbated by moisture-trapping synthetic underwear. For this reason, the CDC recommends wearing cotton underwear to help reduce the risk.
Urinary tract infections
Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are also common in women. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that 1 in 5 women have experienced a UTI at some point in her life. UTIs are caused by bacterial infections that are typically in the urethra or bladder, but they can also occur in the uterus and kidneys as well. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends wearing cotton underwear to help reduce moisture and the potential growth of bacteria.
According to the CDC, bacterial vaginosis is one of the most common types of vaginal infections. Although the causes are not entirely known, researchers know that BV is most common in sexually active women. To prevent BV, they suggest not having sex, reducing the number of sexual partners, and avoiding douching. Doctors also recommend that women who are experiencing BV wear cotton underwear, since the breathability of the fabric can help reduce the spread of bacteria.
Vulvodynia is a painful condition that affects the vulva, and symptoms may include stinging, burning, irritation, and rawness. Vulvodynia is caused by inflammation of the vulva, damage or irritation to the vaginal nerves, genetic disorders, sensitivity to foods, and dysfunction of the pelvic floor muscles. The ACOG also recommends that women with vulvodynia wear cotton underwear to help reduce any additional irritation to the vagina.
Always talk with your healthcare provider about pain you’re experiencing to treat the issue that’s causing the pain and prevent it from happening in the future. Learn more about the common causes and treatments of vaginal irritation after sex.