Should you go commando? Buy tech-heavy or workout-specific underwear? We asked the experts all the questions you're not asking (but want to!).
Thanks to tight leggings and shorts with built-in liners, going bare (down there) to barre (class) isn't as risky as wearing your favorite mini-dress. That said, plenty of women still worry about going commando at the gym. So before you get your knickers in a twist, never fear, our experts are here to answer all your questions. (Also, see if your workout clothes are helping you make the most of your sweat sesh with 10 Fitness Fabrics Explained.)
Many workout pants are actually meant to be worn sans undershorts, with flat seams to prevent chafing and special fabrics. “If you frequently wear bottoms with moisture-wicking capabilities, then underwear is not necessary," reassures David Bank, M.D., Founder and Director of the Center for Dermatology, Cosmetic, & Laser Surgery. That's especially true for pants like these leggings from Dear Kate and these shorts from Under Armour which have a special "underwear" layer.
As long as you properly launder your bottoms after each wear, you're at no higher risk of a yeast or bacterial infection than your panty-wearing pals. But having moisture around your bits for too long—whether from your yoga pants or cotton underwear—can set you up for all kind of issues down there. Moisture and heat are public enemy No. 1, says Christine O’Connor, M.D., director of Well Woman Care and Adolescent Gynecology at The Weinberg Center for Women’s Health. “These encourage bacterial growth, which can lead to UTIs, yeast infections, or bacterial vaginosis,” she says. So don't sit around in your sweaty duds. Take a shower, taking care to rinse your lady parts with plain water, as soon as possible after finishing your workout.
You'd think leggings would be flash-proof, but sheer fabric combined with a deep squat is a Marilyn Moment in the making. Even inky black pants can go transparent when spread thin. The only way to avoid playing peek-a-butt with your fellow gym goers is to do a test run at home. Put on your capris, stand in front of someone you really trust, and drop it low. If they fail the flash test, wear flesh-toned underwear to keep things covered or wear a tunic-length top. (Or take them back. There are plenty of pants on the market that won't let you down or out!)
If you're still all about the bass coverage, we totally understand. Bank says to swap out your cheap cotton panties and spend the extra cash on exercise-specific skivvies. "Technical undies are a great idea as most of them are stretchy but supportive—great for climbing and kneeling," he says. "They also wick sweat far more efficiently than cotton undies to help keep you drier. The antimicrobial treatment within will also help to fight odor."
It's also important to pick the right kind of underwear for your sport. Long-distance runners need to be especially careful of chafing O'Connor says. This means looking for flat or no-seam garments and skipping the lace, satin, bows, and other frills that can irritate skin. Take new undies out on a trial run too. (Why not try gym clothes made from natural materials such as bamboo? Check out Natural Workout Clothes That Actually Work.)
A tiny thong may seem like the perfect bridge between going totally bare and still keeping your bits bundled. (Plus, no visible panty lines!) And it turns out they are a happy medium...for bacteria. "These are usually tight fitting and tend to slide back and forth while you exercise. All of this friction and heat can lead to UTIs and vaginal bacterial infections, regardless of the fabric," Bank says, calling them a superhighway for bacteria to travel from your butt to your vagina. (See the 4 Surprising Causes of Urinary Tract Infections.)
Stress incontinence—that thing that happens when jumping jacks make you pee a little no matter how often you go to the restroom—is more common than people think, especially in women. Childbearing, pregnancy, menopause, and other life changes can turn your bladder into a leaky balloon. So if you have an issue with peeing during plyometrics, or if you're on your period, you will likely want to stick with underwear. Fewer layers between you and the floor makes it more likely (and obvious) you'll have an accident. Look for special underwear designed to catch leaks or wear a small pad.