Thongs—Do they cause UTIs or yeast infections?

Dear Alice,

Some people say that thongs can cause UTIs or yeast infections, but I like to wear them because they give me that satisfaction that I can't get from anything else. Should I stop wearing them?

thong wearers

Dear thong wearers,

Many people enjoy thongs as a first layer of any outfit, and you're not alone in appreciating the freedom from prominent panty lines that they provide. Though commonly associated with women, thongs are increasingly becoming popular with people of other genders such as men, too. It’s understandable that you may be concerned about wearing them if you hear people claim that there is risk for infection. Though there isn’t much data, current studies suggest that thong use does not correlate with increased contraction of yeast infections or urinary tract infections (UTIs). That being said, there are ways in which thongs and other non-cotton underwear could help facilitate an infection more easily than other types of underwear. 

    For people with vaginas, yeast infections are typically caused by an overgrowth of the fungus Candida albicans, whereas infections in people with penises generally result from the fungus Candida balanitis. Some common risk factors are poor hygiene practices, skin irritation, increased estrogen levels, and the use of antibiotics.

    Yeast infection symptoms may include:

    • Itchiness
    • Abnormal vaginal discharge
    • Swelling
    • Pain in the groin

    UTIs, on the other hand, are caused by bacteria in the urethra, bladder, or kidneys. Someone with a UTI often feels a constant urge to urinate as well as a burning sensation during urination. Though anyone can develop a UTI, people with vaginas are more likely to contract them as they have shorter urethras, meaning there is less distance between bacteria and the bladder. Sexual activity, menopause, and the use of spermicide or a diaphragm may also lead to UTIs. 

    Instead, oral sex and the use of non-cotton underwear are more commonly associated with urogenital infections. That being said, one way a thong might be a culprit of infection is that it can serve as a conduit for bacteria. Since a thong is a continuous and close-fitting strip of fabric, it can easily pick up fecal matter and bacteria from the anus, and if the thong moves, can carry that matter forward to the vagina and urinary tract. One gynecologist likened a thong to a subway car transporting bacteria from the rectum to the vagina. UTIs and some types of vaginitis (although not yeast infections) are caused by bacteria, often from fecal matter, which is why thongs could be implicated in some instances of infection.

    Thongs could also make people susceptible to infections by irritating the vaginal tissues. The function of underwear is to provide a soft barrier between potential irritants, such as your clothes, and the vagina. In addition to failing to provide that barrier, a thong may irritate vaginal tissue by causing micro-abrasions or cracks in the skin, which can leave delicate tissues more susceptible to infection.

    If you have a compromised immune system, or are prone to these types of infections, then wearing a thong might be riskier for you. Have you found that you have more frequent UTIs or yeast infections while wearing thongs? If so, you may want to limit wearing them to special occasions, or stop wearing them all together to see if that decreases the infections. For recurring or painful UTIs or yeast infections, you could consult a urologist or gynecologist to see what you can do to alleviate the symptoms and prevent future infections.

    If you've noticed no particular change in your gynecological health when you're wearing a thong, then you can count yourself among those who aren't negatively affected by the underwear. Here's to enjoying the panty line-free life that you've come to enjoy!

    Last updated Dec 09, 2022
    Originally published Nov 09, 2007

    Submit a new comment


    This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

    The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.