Do you really need underwear? The pros and cons of going commando, according to genital health experts
- Underwear can help protect delicate genital skin, but you may not always need to wear it.
- Going commando may help prevent common concerns like yeast infections, UTIs, or jock itch.
Historians hold differing opinions as to why humans started wearing underwear in the first place — but most likely, they wanted a barrier to protect their private parts from the elements.
Today, you have pants to do the job instead of loincloths, so that extra layer might seem a little bit unnecessary — and plenty of people agree.
In fact, according to a survey from Vanity Fair, 25% of participants said they go commando, or skip wearing underwear, at least occasionally.
It's not totally clear where the term "going commando" came from, but some say it originated during the Vietnam War, when soldiers sometimes avoided wearing underwear to prevent fungal infections when they couldn't shower.
But anyone can reap the benefits of ditching underwear. What's more, there's no real medical reason to wear it at all — and in some cases, it may do more harm to your genitals than good.
Discover the potential pros and cons of going commando below, along with expert tips for maintaining optimal genital health.
The pros of going commando
The potential benefits of going sans drawers can differ, depending on what's in your pants.
If you have a vulva, some potential pros of skipping underwear include:
- Lowered risk of yeast infections: Yeast infections are a vaginal fungal infection that can cause irritation, itchiness, and vaginal discharge. Certain kinds of underwear, like those made of materials other than cotton, may lead to higher rates of yeast infections. So, limiting the times when you wear underwear may help prevent them, according to Aleece Fosnight, medical advisor and urologist at Aeroflow Urology.
- Fewer UTIs: People with vaginas get urinary tract infections (UTIs) up to 30 times more often — and non-cotton undies may raise your risk of UTIs. If you frequently get UTIs when you wear underwear in fabrics other than cotton, going commando may help you avoid the issue.
- Reducing vaginal odor: Throughout your day, you can sweat in your genital area, and your underwear may trap moisture or odor-causing organisms around the vulva. If you're concerned about how you smell down there, skipping underwear might help you out.
- Less irritation: Tight underwear can cause rubbing or chafing, and some underwear may irritate the sensitive skin of your vulva, Fosnight says.
If you have a penis, reasons to go commando include:
- Lower risk of jock itch: Underwear can trap sweat close to your body — and fungal infections like tinea cruris, aka jock Itch, thrive in damp environments. If you sweat heavily during workouts, skipping underwear might help air out your genitals and prevent fungal infections.
- Reduced smell of sweat: Damp underwear isn't only a breeding ground for fungal infections — it could also lead to funky-smelling pants. "Not wearing underwear can help decrease genital odor," Fosnight says.
- Potentially increased sperm count: When your testes become too warm, the increased temperature decreases their ability to make optimal sperm, Fosnight says. Tight underwear like briefs can hold your testes close to the body and make them warmer, which could cut down your sperm count. So, ditching your tighty-whities may end up boosting your fertility.
- Freedom of movement: If you find underwear restricts your movements, going commando could allow you more freedom during workouts — or just let you appreciate a fresh breeze as you go about your daily life.
Before you toss all your underwear on a bonfire, keep in mind that ditching your drawers isn't always such a great idea.
Sometimes, going without underwear might actually leave you more open to chafing or infections — particularly if you have a vulva, says Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, gynecologist at Yale Medicine.
Minkin says she's treated several people for irritation to the vulva and urethra — caused by the coarse cloth of their pants after they skipped underwear.
Other potential drawbacks to going without underwear include:
- Less protection from drips: If urinary incontinence is an issue for you, skipping underwear might leave you without an extra barrier between your genitals and your pants, should any leakage occur.
- Lowered support: If you have a penis, you may find that going commando leaves you without as much support as you might like during physical activities. Wearing a cup can protect you during close-contact sports, but you'll want to wear these with a jock strap and snug briefs for best results.
- Stains from vaginal fluids: If you have a vulva, skipping underwear might allow your regular vaginal discharge to get on your clothes — which may, in some cases, leave visible marks behind.
- Protection from zippers: Without underwear serving as a protective barrier between your body and your pants, it's possible to accidentally snag your skin or pubic hair in a zipper — yikes.
When to wear underwear and when to go commando
The choice to wear underwear or not is very much a personal one. But considering certain factors can help.
You might want the extra layer of underwear:
- When on your period: If you menstruate, underwear could help protect your clothes, should your tampon, pad, or menstrual cup leak. Washable period underwear might also provide an extra barrier.
- When shopping for new clothes: Do you plan on hitting the mall to try out some new pants? You'll definitely want underwear to avoid exposing your genitals to other people's bacteria. Many stores also have policies that require you to wear underwear when trying on certain clothes, like swim bottoms.
- When wearing tight clothing: If you're wearing form-fitting yoga pants or rough denim jeans, underwear might provide an extra cushion from tight or coarse fabric.
On the other hand, skipping underwear might be ideal:
- When working out: Do you get particularly sweaty during your daily run or workout? In that case, you might want to join the 18% of people who don't wear anything under their workout clothes, according to a Tommy John survey.
- When sleeping: If you're concerned about genital yeast or fungal infections, Fosnight recommends skipping underwear when you go to bed.
- When wearing loose-fitting clothing: If you plan on wearing loose or soft clothing, you may not need the extra barrier of underwear at all.
How to choose the right underwear for optimal genital health
Of course, not all underwear offers the same benefits. So if you choose to wear them, it may help to keep these tips in mind:
- Opt for cotton: Fosnight and Minkin both recommend buying 100% cotton underwear when you can, since it allows for better air circulation. Other types of fabric — like nylon, spandex, or polyester — can limit breathability and trap extra moisture close to your genitals, Fosnight says.
- Choose the right detergent: "Washing underwear in certain laundry detergents can cause irritation to the genitals," Fosnight says. With that in mind, you may want to wash your undergarments in a fragrance-free detergent designed for sensitive skin.
- Wear clean underwear every day: It may go without saying, but changing your underwear frequently is a good idea. Experts recommend changing your underwear once daily — twice if you tend to sweat a lot throughout the day.
If you ever pass on underwear to let your nether regions feel free, you're not the only one.
You may even find some potential benefits to skipping your drawers every now and then — like a lower risk of fungal or yeast infections.
That said, you may prefer an extra barrier between your genitals and your clothing in some situations, like when you're wearing rough jeans or tight-fitting yoga pants.
It may take some experimentation to discover when you need the extra support of underwear, and when you prefer the unparalleled freedom of going commando.
"Trial and error is the best solution, along with your personal preference," Fosnight says.
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