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Underwear is a largely personal choice. You may prefer briefs, boxers, or thongs.

Regardless of the type of underwear you wear, you may be wondering if it’s OK to wear a tight pair of undies.

Some research suggests that wearing tight underwear isn’t a good idea for your health (more on that later), but the answer isn’t totally black and white.

In this article, we’ll discuss whether tight underwear is bad and what people with penises and people with vulvas need to know about underwear and hygiene.

The way tight underwear affects your body will depend on whether you have a penis or a vulva.

Underwear, especially briefs, bikinis, and thongs, should fit snugly, but it shouldn’t leave imprints in the skin.

People with penises

A 2018 study found lower sperm counts in people who wear tight underwear, though more research on the topic is needed.

The thought is that wearing tight underwear increases the temperature of the scrotum (much like going into a hot tub or placing a laptop on your lap), which affects the body’s production of sperm.

Researchers found a 25 percent higher sperm concentration in men who wore boxer briefs, though it should be noted that sperm count was still in the healthy range even among folks who wore briefs.

Boxers may be a better choice for people trying to have children in the foreseeable future, but there doesn’t appear to be any adverse effects from wearing clingy briefs for those who don’t have parental aspirations.

People with vulvas

A 2014 study suggested wearing tight pants or underwear can cause yeast infections in people with vulvas.

This is because moisture and air can become trapped between the skin and the fabric, creating an environment for bacteria to thrive. A bacteria-rich environment may cause a urinary tract infection (UTI) or yeast infection.

It should be noted, though, that one 2011 study found no correlation between tight underwear and UTIs.

In addition, extremely tight undergarments (like shapewear, for example) can potentially cause your circulation to slow. Also, because shapewear is notoriously hard to remove, people may go to the bathroom less often.

Although this is generally safe, holding your pee in regularly could potentially cause kidney issues for all genders or prostate enlargement in those with penises.

Best practice tips for choosing underwear

Wearing tight underwear occasionally isn’t going to cause any major problems, so before you buy all-new underwear, consider the following:

  • When exercising, try to wear moisture-wicking underwear that will help prevent sweat from entering your genitals.
  • Underwear that’s too tight can cause uncomfortable chafing.
  • There’s no evidence that thongs cause yeast vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, or UTIs, so if you prefer thongs, it’s fine to wear them daily.
  • Opt for natural fabric (like cotton or bamboo) instead of synthetic (like lace or polyester). Natural fibers will help absorb discharge and naturally air out the vulva or penis.

Here are some general underwear and hygiene tips that can help improve your genital health and reduce the likelihood of certain conditions, like UTIs and yeast infections.

  • Always opt for natural fabrics like cotton which naturally absorb moisture.
  • If you’re between sizes in underwear, go for a size up.
  • You’ve heard it before, but change your underwear (at least) once a day to prevent bacteria accumulation.
  • When working out, try to wear moisture-wicking underwear with a little stretch to it, which may help prevent bacteria buildup and chafing.
  • If you’re a person with a penis trying to conceive, boxers may be a better choice because they help keep the scrotum cool.
  • Avoid wearing lace, polyester, or super-tight shapewear for long periods of time.
  • It’s safe and may actually be advisable not to wear underwear at night (aka going commando while you sleep), which allows your vulva or penis to air out. You can wear very loose-fitting bottoms if you prefer not to be naked.
  • Launder your undergarments in hypoallergenic detergent.

In some cases, you may want to see your doctor for your genital health. Make an appointment with your doctor if you:

Wearing tight underwear can be uncomfortable, and in some cases it may have adverse effects on your health.

For people with penises, wearing tight underwear can push the scrotum against the body, causing the testes to rise in temperature. This has shown in some research to correlate with a lower sperm count. If you’re trying to conceive, it may be a good idea to switch to boxers.

For people with vulvas, wearing tight underwear can cause chafing, and if bacteria and moisture become trapped against the skin, it can potentially cause yeast infections or UTIs.

Whenever possible, opt for undergarments that are made of natural fabrics like bamboo or cotton. Avoid regularly wearing super tight shapewear or manmade materials like many laces or polyester. These fabrics can be irritating to the delicate skin around the vulva and penis.