A popular TikTok making the rounds informs women that they should throw out their out their underwear every six to nine months. Many find this laughable. One woman responded with her own TikTok admitting, “I definitely don’t do that,” then adding, “I think I have underwear that’s probably a decade old. And … Am I the only one? Did anyone know this nine month rule?”
She’s not alone. Many doctors were stunned that people believe their underwear has an expiration date.
“Somehow at six to nine months your underwear magically becomes some type of infectious catastrophe and that’s simply not the case,” Dr. Jen Gunter, author of The Vagina Bible: The Vulva and the Vagina: Separating the Myth from the Medicine, said in her own TikTok. “When people tell you that you need to do really special things with your underwear, that is just an extension of purity culture. OK? It’s this idea that the vagina and vulva are delicate and the harbinger of sort of an infectious apocalypse and there’s all this sort of special maintenance. It’s not true at all.”
Other agree. There’s no reason to toss underwear at any sort of regular interval.
“Social media, at times, it’s almost like the Bible. Like if you see it on social media, it must be true,” Dr. Chavone Momon-Nelson, an OB-GYN at UPMC in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, told TODAY. "There is no rule that says after six months, cut them and get new underwear.”
Like Gunter, she suspects that this idea of replacing underwear might stem from how society views vulvas and vaginas as dirty, delicate or embarrassing.
“There is so much vaginal shaming. You need to throw out your underwear now. You need to use this kind of spray. Now, you need to use these wipes. This is how you keep your vagina healthy,” Momon-Nelson said. “You keep your vagina healthy by just washing with soap and water.”
Doctors recommend that women do wear clean and dry underwear. Damp underwear can cause irritation, skin breakdown or infection.
“As long as your underwear is clean — and I typically advise cotton underwear — and it’s washed with a detergent that should not be irritating to you, your underwear should be OK,” Dr. Christine Greves, who practices at the Center of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Orlando, told TODAY.
Momon-Nelson agreed that normal washing is enough.
“If you’re washing your underwear in warmer or hot water you are cleaning the bacteria off them,” she said.
Greves said she found one study from the early 1990s looking at whether candida, which can cause yeast infections, lives in underwear even after washing. But the study found a regular cleaning eliminated any candida on the underwear.
“They didn’t find any evidence of passing infection in people if they just used the same underwear after cleaning it,” she explained.
While some seem to believe that the vulva needs special care, Greves stressed it doesn’t.
“They may think that because it’s private because no one sees it because it’s covered most of the time (it’s different),” she said. “It’s skin.”
Momon-Nelson adds that buying underwear is a personal choice but it shouldn’t be informed by myths about bodies or genitalia.
“We should change the narrative about what they should feel comfortable about and what they should not feel comfortable about,” Momon-Nelson said. “There's nothing wrong with a nice new pair of underwear that fit nice that are cotton and that are clean. And I wouldn't discourage anyone from wanting to buy new underwear. But I would not say that you have to throw away your old underwear.”