One fitness-loving woman makes the case for underwear-free sweat sessions.

By Isis Briones
January 30, 2019

I used to believe you always had to wear underwear to the gym. Not only was I self-conscious about feeling so exposed without them, but I also thought I would be more prone to vaginal infections if I didn't have something on between my skin and my leggings. Given how germy public spaces like gyms can be, covering up made a lot of sense to me. 

Then one day, I was forced to face my worst nightmare. I was rummaging through my suitcase, and I realized I was fresh out of clean undies. As a freelance writer who travels every other week, this happens sometimes. Rather than turning one of my used pairs inside out for a morning workout, I figured going without underwear, as uncomfortable as it sounded, was actually more hygenic.

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To my surprise, I ended up liking it a lot more than I expected to. I took to it so much that now, the only time I opt for panties during an exercise session is when I’m on my period. Wondering what the benefits are, and if it's something you might try too? Let me make the case here. 

The benefits of underwear-free workouts

I've always despised underwear lines, and they almost always show up underneath leggings, yoga pants, and even some shorts. To avoid this, I used to wear thongs and g-strings to work out. But on that first day I went commando, I realized what a time suck it was to stop in the middle of every class or run to pick a permanent wedgie.

Another benefit has to do with the material underwear tends to be made with. Fabrics like lace and satin constantly irritated my skin and made my vagina itchy, especially if they were too tight. I also realized that without that extra layer of potentially irritating fabric, I felt more free to move, stretch, and run.

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Despite all these factors, I sucked up the discomfort and rationalized that I had to wear underwear, it was just what you did when you worked out. But after consulting with doctors, it turns out that there's no health reason to not go commando—and it might even be good for you.

“There is no scientific evidence that women have to wear underwear,” Lakeisha Richardson, MD, an ob-gyn based in Greenville, Mississippi, tells Health. In fact, it may actually decrease your chances of acquiring a yeast or bacterial infection, as long as you are wearing a pair of workout pants that are moisture-wicking. Workout pants plus underwear that's made from synthetic, non-breathable fabric don't allow sweat to dry. That can lead to a bacterial imbalance or overgrowth in the vagina—which in turn causes a full-blown yeast or bacteria infection.

The cons of going commando

Investing in the proper workout gear was the biggest learning curve of my new less-is-more look. I could no longer slip on just any pair of black leggings from my closet. After some trial and error, I figured out that the thicker the workout wear, the better. Bottoms with higher quality material bunch up a lot less, which avoid awkward camel toe moments and leaves me less likely to accidentally flash people. I also learned not to let darker leggings fool you, because even they can appear transparent in certain lighting, depending on how thin they are.

Perspiration is the other major concern of mine after eliminating underpants. I found that my bottom half was sweating way more than usual, and I knew I had to do something about it. Dr. Richardson recommends sticking to firm, breathable, moisture-wicking pants, since these garments help crotch sweat evaporate, and they don’t move around your skin too much. “Make sure that your pants aren't uncomfortable or rubbing against the labia—consistent rubbing can cause abrasions, swelling, or inflammation of the labia,” Dr. Richardson says.

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Pro tip on how to do it safely

Before I stopped wearing underwear, I'd finish a run or workout class and then go out to eat or run errands in my sweaty fitness clothes; it might be hours before I got home and actually showered. Now I wash myself off right away, which is hands-down better for my body.

“You should change out of wet pants right after a workout to prevent yeast infections,” Stanford University physician Leah Millheiser, MD, tells Health. She also advises never wearing the same workout pants two days in a row if you've gone commando. It's for the same reason you shouldn’t wear underwear two days in a row, so make sure to wash them in between, says Dr. Millheiser.

All in all, leaving behind this small article of clothing has done wonders for my fitness routine. I learned a lot about my body’s different comfort levels—which as a result, had made me more confident. That alone was worth making the switch.

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