The debate about whether to work out without underwear is one as old as time. The pro-undies people argue that going bare down there is unhygienic while the commando camp swears by the benefits — fewer wedgies to worry about, no visible underwear lines and less laundry.
Still, others are on the fence — craving the comfort of an undie-free sweat session but concerned about the health risks.
Here, health experts weigh the pros and cons of ditching your drawers, so you can make an informed decision about whether working out without underwear is the right choice for you.
The Pros of Going Commando
Whether you sport leggings or compression pants during your workout, "there is an argument to be made that exercising without underwear is actually healthier for the skin," Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
That's because certain types of underwear, like cotton, "may actually trap sweat on the skin as it becomes wet during exercise," Dr. Zeichner says.
This is especially problematic for people with vulvas. "The vagina has normal bacteria that prevents the overgrowth of bad bacteria like bacterial vaginosis and yeast, but a warm wet environment after a sweaty workout can be a breeding ground for infection," says Jodie Horton, MD, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist and chief wellness advisor for Love Wellness.
"And wearing underwear adds another layer that can trap moisture and cause irritation, chafing, itching and burning," Dr. Horton says.
In other words, removing your undies or thong may help prevent any problems, especially for people who are prone to infections.
The Cons of Going Commando
If you're prone to profuse perspiration during exercise, you might experience some irritation in your nether regions as a result, especially if you have a penis. "The idea that not wearing underwear may diminish this discomfort is mistaken," says Robert J. Valenzuela, MD, a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, urologist and director of penile prosthesis surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital.
"While there's no major health risk of not wearing underwear when exercising, there are certain skin conditions that may be aggravated" by going commando, such as jock itch — a red, itchy rash that can develop in the groin and extend into the genital areas, Dr. Valenzuela says.
"Chaffing of the skin can also occur due to constant friction of the genitals against clothing not designed to function as a protective barrier, which can be very irritating and may interfere with sexual activity," he adds.
What's more, the idea that working out without underwear can help keep the testicles cool and thus maintain or improve fertility for people with penises is a misconception.
While the testicles are supposed to be kept at a lower temperature from the body (that's why they're situated outside of the body by design), the temporary rise in testicular temperature during exercise is too insignificant to impact fertility, Dr. Valenzuela explains.
7 Tips for Working Out Without Underwear
"Should you prefer to go without underwear, hygiene is the main concern," Dr. Valenzuela says. Before you strip off your skivvies, just make sure you follow these expert tips. (P.S. Many of these rules also apply if you choose to sport undies, too.)
1. Go for Moisture-Wicking Fabrics
Whether you have a penis or a vulva, "make sure you wear [breathable] moisture-wicking pants or shorts, so that sweat can evaporate away from the skin," Dr. Zeichner says.
"Nylon, bamboo and Spandex are your best choices for keeping moisture away and keeping the vagina dry even during the sweatiest workouts," Dr. Horton says. "Some companies are even using fabrics with silver woven into the clothing. Silver is an antibacterial agent, which is helpful for reducing bacteria buildup in clothes and potentially reducing the risk of infection.
2. Select Seamless
"Look for seamless workout gear because it prevents chafing and irritation, especially if you're wearing tight leggings," Dr. Horton says.
3. Shower, Stat
"Make sure to shower immediately after working out to clean sweaty areas and prevent overgrowth of bacteria or fungi on the skin," Dr. Zeichner says.
"If you are in a hurry, you can keep vaginal wipes handy in your gym bag," and change into dry, clean clothes immediately after your workout, Dr. Horton says.
4. Always Wear Clean Workout Clothes
"Sweat and bacteria can build up in the crotch of your old clothes and irritate the delicate area of the vulva, which can cause clogged pores and hair follicles, cysts, yeast and bacterial infections," Dr. Horton says. The same goes for people with penises, who also harbor bacteria in the genital region.
5. Choose Gear That Supports Your Genitals
For people with penises, consider clothing that offers support to the genital area, Dr. Valenzuela says. For example, wearing supportive compression pants may help eliminate the need to wear underwear. "Many people prefer moisture-wicking compression shorts, which give support but are breathable and will not become soiled or wet when you exercise," Dr. Zeichner adds.
6. Stay Moisturized
If you have a penis, you might want to moisturize before exercising to prepare the skin, Dr. Zeichner says. "You can apply an occlusive ointment in areas where there's rubbing to minimize friction.
7. Pat With Baby Powder
"Baby powder is a great and inexpensive way to keep the skin dry" for people with penises, Dr. Zeichner says. "The powder itself helps absorb wetness and prevents the overgrowth of microorganisms that would otherwise be growing in a moist environment." Simply sprinkle some on before your workout and after you shower.
So, should you wear underwear under compression pants and leggings? "Whether you prefer to wear underwear or not while you exercise is completely up to you," Dr. Valenzuela says. "Cleanliness is definitely the number one concern to keep in mind."
Just be sure to shower as soon as possible after your workouts and choose exercise clothing designed to help absorb sweat and keep bacteria at bay.
Dr. Horton agrees: "There is no real downside to going commando when exercising — it truly is a personal preference. As long as you choose breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics, wash your clothes in between workouts and wear seamless workout gear, you should be fine."