There are so many myths about underwear passed down the generations: How to wash them, where not to hang them, when to buy, but rarely how often to change them.
“I change mine once a day in the evening from work, after a shower,” said a 28-year-old teacher in Nairobi who sought anonymity for fear of embarrassment. “There are times, though, I am so lazy I sleep and change in the morning.”
There is a 34-year-old journalist, also in Nairobi, who said she changes panties daily, but during her menses she changes in the evening after a shower or during the day if stained.
Dr Fredrick Kairithia, an obstetrician/gynaecologist says underwear should be changed at least once a day to avoid recurrent infections, more so for women.
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The vagina contains normal flora (microorganisms that live on another living organism without causing disease) and “if they multiply and overwhelm the area they can cause imbalance of the pH, causing yeast infection and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, (PID),” explains Dr Kairithia.
Yeast infection is marked by itching, swelling, and irritation from changes in balance of the yeast cells. PID on the other hand, is infection of the reproductive organs.
Dr Kairithia adds that besides medical reasons, repeating underwear can also affect one socially from the foul smell.
Junior F. Mukudi, a health system specialist and Women’ s Health Advocate, picks research which indicates at least three out of five people repeat the same underwear two to three times a week, oblivious of the health hazards including skin rashes from irritation besides inflammation due to being sensitive to extra moisture.
Mukudi explains that walking or engaging in rigorous activities leads to moisture which can build up “and this can lead to yeast infection. Tight underwear trap sweat, dirt, bacteria, dead cells, urine and mucus,” says Mukudi.
But should women sleep “commando” (without underwear)?
Well, most women interviewed confessed to sleeping commando with most using them saying they wear during their periods but some even when on their periods dispense with underwear by using tampons.
Mukudi says sleeping with underwear is not a problem as long as it allows for free airflow.
“Sleeping without panties increases comfort, relieves dampness, soothes acne or pimples that grow from your pubic hair while wearing underwear causes dampness, which leads to discomfort. Heat and moisture also causes folliculitis, an infection that looks like small bumps,” says the health expert.
Mukudi adds that sleeping commando also prevents yeast infections, as tight underwear can lead to troublesome vaginitis (swelling of the vagina that can cause itchiness, pain, and discharge).
Yeast infection also causes itchiness and a white discharge which looks like cottage cheese.
Tight underwear can also cause trichomoniasis, which causes similar symptoms but is characterised by greenish-yellow discharge.