Is there cause for concern?
There are a lot of things that can go wrong with your vagina. From yeast infections to toxic shock syndrome, problems range from straight up uncomfortable to flat out dangerous if you’re not treating your lady parts with care. So naturally, we got a little nervous when we heard that the clothes we wear might be unknowingly wrecking havoc down there.
If you search the Internet to find out what causes yeast infections or other ailments like bacterial vaginosis, chances are you’ve stumbled upon the notion that wearing tight pants can cause some issues.
Does this mean you have to give up your skinny jeans to avoid an obnoxious itch? We asked someone whose job it is to keep vaginas healthy.
Tight pants can definitely irritate the lady bits, but usually the problem only seems like an infection.
The biggest problem with tight pants—especially jeans—is that they can rub up against the vulva and cause irritation.
“Some women have more sensitivity,” Tami Rowen, M.D., an ob/gyn at UCSF Medical Center specializing in sexual health concerns, tells SELF. “Tight pants rubbing and putting pressure on the vulva can cause irritation.” This can lead to symptoms that look very similar to an infection—like itchiness, redness, and irritation. But what’s really happening is that the skin is inflamed.
“I’ll do a biopsy, and it comes down to something is irritating the skin tissue,” Rowen explains. “The biopsy shows inflammation that just shouldn’t be there.” Some people may mistake this irritation for infection, which is why it’s important to see your gyno instead of trying to self-treat.
Chances are slim, though that your skinny jeans themselves will cause an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria. Theoretically—however—they could be one small part of the larger equation.
“You could, in theory, say yes,” that tight pants may increase your risk, Rowen says. They decrease breathability—helping trap heat and moisture in your vagina—which can promote an environment where yeast and bacteria thrive. It makes sense. But what you have on underneath those jeans is more important.
“For women with chronic yeast or bacteria infections, something is clearly disturbing the pH of the vagina, so we do look at what kind of detergent they’re using or underwear they’re wearing,” she says.
Underwear made of synthetic materials traps moisture, decreasing the air flow in that area. When you pair the two together, it could potentially make a greater impact than either factor itself. Underwear made of wicking materials—like polyester—is good for a very sweaty workout, but not necessarily everyday use.
So, what can you do to keep your vagina happy when you’re squeezing into your favorite pants?
If you suffer from irritation, Rowen says it may be worth switching to a skirt for a little bit or at least pants that don’t cause friction to see if it helps. All women—but especially those prone to irritation or yeast or bacterial infections—should wear plain cotton underwear and change it often. “Once a day should be enough, but if you’re having excessive discharge, you should be changing it more frequently or using a panty liner and replacing it when it gets near full.”
If you’re experiencing recurrent yeast or bacterial infections or simply don’t know your diagnosis, see your doctor to figure out the underlying cause. As easy as it is to point fingers when you’re uncomfortable and desperate for an explanation, it’s probably not your Levi’s fault.
This article was originally published at SELF. Reprinted with permission from the author.