Growing up, maybe you were told that you’re supposed to sleep sans underwear to let your nether regions “air out” overnight. Or perhaps you’ve just never been a fan of going to bed commando. But is there a “right” answer when it comes to your health — and does it differ by sex? We talked to doctors to find out and here are some of their opinions.
The Lack of Research
First, know that the underwear versus no-underwear debate is not one that’s backed up by much research, said Orange County, California, urologist Dr. Aaron Spitz. “The topic of going commando under the sheets is not routinely discussed in academic conferences, and a literature review will not turn up any erudite studies on the topic,” Spitz, author of “The Penis Book: A Doctor’s Complete Guide to the Penis,” told HuffPost.
Dr. Sherry Ross — an OB-GYN and the author of “She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health, said that it really comes down to personal choice. “There is no right or wrong answer whether you decide to sleep with or without underwear,”.
Factors to Consider
And while there’s no scholarly consensus on the matter, there are some factors to take into account when deciding what’s right for you. We talked to a handful of experts to get their take.
You may want to wear underwear to bed if…
If you’re someone who has a lot of vaginal discharge or you’re on your period, sleeping in undies “may be your best option to prevent a nighttime mess in the morning,” Ross said.
Those with male genitals, on the other hand, may experience discomfort particularly in their testicles if they go commando “due to compression that may occur from their thighs or the mattress while they toss and turn in their sleep,” Spitz said. If that’s an issue for you, he recommends sleeping in a pair of supportive underwear to prevent any uncomfortable squashing.
Another thing to consider: Wearing underwear to bed means your genitals aren’t making direct contact with your pajamas or your sheets. So you can wash these items a little less frequently which is a plus if you hate doing laundry.
Sleeping in underwear can also protect the urethra, the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body, from irritants or infection, Spitz noted. For instance, “bed sheets in hotels and friends’ houses may be washed with detergents that may cause irritation to the urethra of some individuals,” he said. “Underwear, even the loose-fitting kind, will serve as a protective barrier to the urethra.”
Spitz also warned that it’s possible for the urethra to get contaminated by bacteria on the bedding where a person’s bare butt has been rubbing against the sheets. “Since most people don’t change their sheets daily, it’s good to have underwear on, playing defense for the sheets, not only for bacteria, but for leakage of urine or nocturnal emissions of semen that may occur for some,” Spitz added.
Choosing the Right Underwear
Not every pair of underwear in your drawer is well-suited for sleep, though. You’ll want to choose an option that is both comfortable and made of breathable materials. “Cotton and bamboo are good choices for underwear, as they are soft, absorbent and breathable,” said Dr. Aanand Geria, a dermatologist at Geria Dermatology in Verona, New Jersey.
For sleep, Ross said she recommends full-coverage underwear over thongs because a thong’s “anatomically unfriendly design makes it easier for harmful bacteria of the colon to find their way into the vagina and bladder,” which can increase the risk of infection.
If you’ve ever worried that tight-fitting underwear might affect your fertility, a 2018 Harvard University study found there may be some benefit to wearing loose-fitting boxers instead of briefs that tend to heat up the scrotum. (Researchers looked at men’s general underwear-wearing habits, not specifically their overnight undergarments.) But other research has suggested that choice of underwear makes no appreciable difference on fertility outcomes.
The Hygiene Factor
And hopefully this goes without saying, but if you’re sleeping in underwear, make sure it’s a clean pair not the one you went for a jog in earlier or a pair you pulled from the hamper. “Since underwear comes in close contact with the skin, it is exposed to sweat, oil, dirt, microorganisms like bacteria or fungus, and even bodily fluids,” dermatologist Dr. Joshua Zeichner, associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, told HuffPost. “Sleeping in soiled underwear can contribute to skin irritations or even infections.”
And you may want to sleep commando if…
If you sweat a lot in your sleep or are prone to certain skin or genital conditions, then it may be better to sleeps sans underwear to keep things drier and more comfortable below the belt, Geria explained.
Wearing tight or nonbreathable underwear can trap moisture in the genital area, creating a damp environment where bacteria and fungi thrive, he said.
For example, if you’re dealing with jock itch, a fungal infection of the groin area then going commando might be a good idea, said Zeichner, “as it may allow the area to dry out and not retain moisture that promotes overgrowth of fungus.”
And if you have a history of vaginal infections or itching, then “you are better off sleeping commando to allow the skin of the vulva and vagina to breathe,” Ross said.
Even if you’re not prone to skin or genital issues, you may find it just feels nice to sleep without underwear, as it gives this sensitive area of the body a break from being covered by fabric all day long. Plus, doing so can prevent bacterial buildup that may lead to pimples or unpleasant odors down there, Ross said.
Personal Comfort Matters
It’s worth reiterating that if you’re sleeping without underwear, you should consider washing your pajamas and bedding more frequently to keep things hygienic.
All of that said, what you wear to bed (or don’t) ultimately comes down to what feels good to you and helps you get a good night’s sleep. If what you’re doing currently is working for you, then there’s no need to make a change. But if it’s not working, it can’t hurt to switch things up.