Why Do We Wear Underwear? 8 Health Reasons You Need Them
If you're wondering why we wear underwear, it's simple—for cleanliness, comfort, and support for the nether regions.
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Many people are haunted by their mother’s dire warning to always have a fresh pair of underwear on in case you get in an accident and paramedics might have to see your undies. Not only is this bad advice—if you soil yourself during a bad accident, emergency responders don’t care in the slightest what your underwear looks like, according to one EMT we spoke to—but there are so many better reasons to wear clean underwear.
Underwear serves two main purposes: fashion and function, specifically to help keep the genital area clean and protected, says David E. Bank, MD, a dermatologist and founder of The Center For Dermatology in Westchester, New York.
How the underwear feels and performs should take precedence over how it looks, he adds. And whether or not you should wear underwear to bed or under your workout clothes when you exercise also may depend on your personal circumstances.
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Health reasons to wear undies
Wearing underwear isn’t strictly necessary for good genital health. But a pair of well-fitting undies made of a breathable fabric can provide some real benefits, Dr. Bank says.
It should be noted that these benefits only extend to clean, well-fitting underwear that is changed on a daily basis, says Sherry A. Ross, MD, an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period.
Lower risk of some infections
“Undies provide a barrier against some bacteria, fungi, dirt, and other environmental contaminants,” Dr. Ross says. This is especially helpful if you regularly wear bottoms, like jeans, that only get washed occasionally and may trap germs close to your genitals.
Protection against “chub rub”
A bad pair of undies can cause pain from rubbing, chafing and pinching. The right pair, however, can prevent a lot of discomfort, Dr. Ross says.
For instance, wearing a longer “bike short” or “boy short” style under a skirt can keep your thighs from rubbing together.
Less genital irritation
Underwear can also protect your genitals from irritation from clothing—like those crotch seams in pants that run right between your legs, Dr. Ross says.
More comfortable workouts
Exercising in tight, sweaty leggings or shorts can encourage bacterial growth.
But wearing a pair of sweat-wicking sports underwear can help keep that area clean, dry and more comfortable so you can work out longer, says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian-Cornell.
Fewer zits down there
Acne in the genital and butt region is a real thing and wearing good underwear can help reduce it, Dr. Garshick says. “When sweat or oil sits on the skin for too long, it can lead to clogged pores, leading to breakouts,” she says. Wicking underwear can help keep your skin clean and dry.
No more zipper accidents
Getting skin, pubic hair or other things caught in your zipper is a special kind of pain and embarrassment.
Wearing underwear significantly reduces your risk of these types of accidents, particularly when you’re in a hurry.
Protects against leakage
If you experience bladder incontinence or you’re a woman who is menstruating, wearing underwear is an invaluable tool for keeping your clothes clean, dry and unstained, Dr. Ross says.
You can buy underwear specifically designed to be extra absorbent or use regular underwear to hold a pad in place.
Wearing pretty or shaping underwear can give you a little boost of confidence, even if you’re the only one who ever sees them, Dr. Ross says.
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- Deborah Christel, PhD, an assistant professor of Apparel Merchandising, Design and Textiles at Washington State University and President and co-founder of underwear company Kade & Vos
- David E. Bank, MD, a dermatologist and founder of The Center For Dermatology in Westchester, New York
- Sherry A. Ross, MD, an OB-GYN in Santa Monica, California and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period.
- Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and Clinical Assistant professor of dermatology at New York Presbyterian-Cornell
- Smithsonian Magazine: "A New Exhibition Is All About Underwear"