It's 6:30 a.m. on a Monday morning, and you're on your way to yoga. Last weekend, you spent hours hunting down the perfect pair of patterned yoga pants and an elegant (yet supportive) sports bra. You're feeling pretty good about your new outfit until you get to class, look in the mirror, and notice something. Your panty line is showing.
While some of us opt for thongs that promise an invisible panty line, others go commando, and some don't mind a panty line at all. The bottom line is whether or not we should be wearing underwear when we exercise is something we all need to talk about more because who wants to deal with yeast infections on a regular basis?
We got in touch with OB/GYN Shannon Clark, who gave us the scoop on what you should be wearing when you sweat to prevent vaginal infections.
Here's what she had to say:
What you should consider before going commando
If you're most comfortable doing downward dogs underwear-free, more power to you. While Clark notes that whether or not you wear underwear when you sweat really does come down to personal preference, there are a few big reasons why you should give underwear a chance.
"Bacteria and yeast do love a moist environment, which is created when working out. These workouts do not have to be vigorous—many women still sweat while doing lower impact workouts like yoga," she says. "Wearing underwear that can absorb the moisture is ideal. There are workout bottoms that have a moisture-absorbing capability or built-in underwear, however, that you can invest in."
The bottom line, Clark says, is that your vagina needs to breathe in order to keep yeast at bay. So if you prefer to go commando while you exercise, take material into consideration. And if you're going to a yoga class where you know you won't be sweating all that much, feel free to leave your panties behind.
Let's talk material
When you're underwear shopping, take the intensity of your workout into consideration. If you're going to sweat a lot—think hot yoga or a long run—moisture-wicking material is your best bet.
"The goal with this material is to prevent trapping moisture in the vaginal area," Clark says. "These underwear are typically made of synthetic fabrics like nylon or polyester and are better for long workouts or vigorous activities where you may sweat more."
If you won't be sweating quite as much, cotton underwear is a comfortable, lightweight, breathable option that's generally healthy for a vaginal environment.
"Cotton underwear is good for everyday use and when you may have to go long periods of time without changing your underwear," she adds. "Cotton underwear is also good when exercising, but if you are doing more vigorous exercise and sweating, they may need to be changed as soon as you are done, in order to prevent moisture from being trapped near your skin/vaginal area for too long."
What about panty lines?
For anyone who can't stand panty lines, you may want to think twice the next time you wear a thong under your yoga pants. They generally fit closer to your body than regular underwear, increasing the likelihood of infection.
"When the underwear hits your perineum (the patch of skin between the vagina and the anus), the thong can potentially transmit fecal bacteria from the rectum to the vaginal area causing vaginal or urinary tract infections," Clark says. "This is especially true if you work out or do excessive activity while wearing them. To make matters worse, thongs tend to rub, causing tiny tears in the delicate skin around your vulva and clitoris, creating access for bacteria."
While you shouldn't live in fear of thongs (I have a whole drawer of them), just be mindful of wearing them every single day. Yep, moderation is key—even when it comes to underwear.
As for what to do after the workout? Change out of your sweaty clothes as soon as possible and prevent over-cleansing by only washing with warm water.
Leigh Weingus is a New York City based freelance journalist and former Senior Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen where she analyzed new research on human behavior, looked at the intersection of wellness and women's empowerment, and took deep dives into the latest sex and relationship trends. She received her bachelor’s in English and Communication from the University of California, Davis. She has written for HuffPost, Glamour, and NBC News, among others, and is a certified yoga instructor.