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Experts Explain Whether Tight Jeans Are Bad For Your Vaginal Health

Let's be honest: We all love our slim-fitting jeans. Even if the skinny jeans of years past aren’t as trendy anymore, there are plenty of other popular styles these days that can feel pretty tight — looking at you, Levi's wedgie jeans. The problem with slim-fitting jeans is that they can often cause major discomfort in the crotch area. From chafing and itching to pure horror when you sit down for a long time (yes, front wedgies are a thing), denim isn't always the most forgiving material when it comes to comfort. But are tight jeans actually bad for your vaginal health?

In general, jeans just aren’t the best environment for the sensitive skin we have in our crotch area — and when you throw a tight fit on top of that, it can put even more stress down there, as Dr. Leila Frodsham, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, tells Bustle. “The vagina and vulval skin is sensitive,” Dr. Frodsham says. “Tight jeans, synthetic fabrics, and tight clothing can irritate the skin, so it can be best to avoid these types of clothing if you are experiencing discomfort.” That goes for menstrual cramps, bloating, and most gastrointestinal problems (re: hot girls have stomach issues).

As it turns out, discomfort isn’t the only potential downside to tight jeans. There are actually some serious medical conditions that can arise out of wearing them. And while simply swapping your slim fit jeans for a boyfriend fit won’t exactly prevent any of these problems, wearing tight jeans in many cases will exacerbate them. Here’s what you should know about the issues tight jeans can cause and how to avoid them.

Experts have long agreed that vaginal infections, particularly thrush, can come about in part thanks to tight clothing. “Vaginal thrush is a yeast infection caused by an increase in the growth of candida albicans, a common fungus,” explains Dr. Frodsham. It causes itchiness, soreness, vaginal discharge (thick, white, and non-foul smelling), pain during sex, and a stinging sensation when peeing.

It's a very common infection — around 75% of people with vaginas will experience thrush at some point in their lives. In the UK alone, it’s estimated that 1.2 million women suffer from recurrent thrush, according to a global study done by researchers at the University of Manchester.

Wearing tight jeans may increase the chances of infections such as thrush, because the candida fungus thrives in warm, moist places, as Dr. Frodsham explains to Bustle. Given that jeans, along with any tight clothing including leggings and nylon underwear, prevent natural ventilation, it only makes sense that the fungus would thrive in this environment.

According to the NHS, thrush can develop if the natural balance of microorganisms in the vagina is disrupted and the candida fungus multiplies — candida is actually naturally occurring in the vagina and perfectly harmless at normal levels. While synthetic or tight fabrics won’t necessarily cause thrush, they certainly might “cause more discomfort and irritate the skin if a woman is suffering from thrush,” says Dr. Frodsham.

In fact, some epidemiological research has found a correlation between certain clothing and increased rates of recurrent candida, with one study finding that patients who often wore tight pants were more likely to suffer from infection.

In addition to thrush, Dr. Frodsham adds, tight jeans can potentially lead to other problems, too. “Any clothing with a tight waist can restrict the bowel or cause reflux by pushing stomach contents up and causing indigestion,” she says. “Some studies have also suggested that avoiding tight jeans can prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs) [from] recurring.”

While tight jeans might not be the root cause of these conditions, it might make sense to steer clear of super tight jeans (at least for the most part) when it comes to your vaginal health.

Given that thrush is the main concern when it comes to wearing tight jeans, there are certain ways that you can avoid the infection outside of simply swapping your jeans for a slightly looser fit.

In general, Dr. Frodsham recommends you do your vagina a favor by avoiding fabrics that will trap warmth and moisture as much as possible. “Less breathable fabrics such as tight jeans, sportswear, tights, or synthetic underwear can increase the chances of thrush, as it can create the environment where bacteria is more likely to thrive,” she explains.

Instead, opt for more breathable fabrics. Wearing cotton or bamboo undyed underwear can help reduce the chances of thrush occurring, Dr. Frodsham adds, as they are natural fabrics that are gentle on the skin. The NHS also states that "some women find that special silk underwear designed for people with eczema and thrush is helpful."

In addition to clothes, Dr. Frodsham recommends avoiding overly scented products near your vagina. “It’s also a good idea to avoid using perfumed soaps, gels, and antiseptics near the vagina, as these can affect the healthy balance of bacteria and pH levels in the vagina and cause irritation,” she says. “Women are advised to use water, oils, or emulsifying creams to wash the area around the vagina (the vulva), not inside it.”

Douching should definitely be avoided, as it washes away microbiome-natural protective bacteria, Dr. Frodsham adds. And shaving might not be your best friend either. As Dr. Frodsham explains, “Removing pubic hair may also affect the natural microbiome and cushioning of delicate vulval tissues and cause discomfort.” If you do find that your bacterial balance is off, you can replenish the amount of good bacteria in your body by taking probiotics, as Dr. Allison Hill, a Los Angeles-based OB/GYN, previously told Bustle. "Taking a probiotic [made for people with vaginas] specifically helps maintain and restore the natural balance of vaginal flora," Hill said.

Ultimately, while conditions like thrush are usually caused by a combination of factors, wearing tight jeans can certainly cause or exacerbate irritation. This info should in no way be cause for ditching your jeans, but it might just convince you not to wear them every day and perhaps swap them out for baggier silhouettes — for the sake of your vagina.

Studies referenced:

Jacob, L., John, M., Kalder, M., & Kostev, K. (2018). Prevalence of vulvovaginal candidiasis in gynecological practices in Germany: A retrospective study of 954,186 patients. Current medical mycology, 4(1), 6–11. https://doi.org/10.18502/cmm.4.1.27

Denning, D. W., Kneale, M., Sobel, J. D., Rautemaa-Richardson, R. (2018). Global burden of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis: a systematic review. The Lancet Infectious Diseases, Volume 18, Issue 11, E339-E347. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(18)30103-8

Dou, N., Li, W., Zhao, E., Wang, C., Xiao, Z., & Zhou, H. (2014). Risk factors for candida infection of the genital tract in the tropics. African health sciences, 14(4), 835–839. https://doi.org/10.4314/ahs.v14i4.10

Experts:

Dr. Leila Frodsham, consultant gynaecologist and spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

Dr. Allison Hill, Los Angeles-based OB/GYN and Florajen chief medical correspondent

This article was originally published on April 30, 2019