Thanks to someone deciding at some point that panty lines are an unforgivable sin, a lot of us ladies are walking around with our underwear up our asses—on purpose! Many women are big fans of the thong, while others only enter the void when they really have to (I think you can tell which camp I’m in). Whether you’re doing it with pleasure or constantly reminding yourself not to pick your wedgie because it’s supposed to be there, there are a couple things you should know about what’s going on along the great divide.
We tapped Dr. Leah Millheiser, an ob/gyn and director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University School of Medicine, who tells SELF that in her practice she definitely sees women who have chafing as a result of wearing thong underwear.
Millheiser says that while thongs are perfectly safe—they’re not going to do any long-term damage or anything—they can definitely rub you the wrong way, especially if they’re on the small side. If you’re noticing irritation or discomfort, her advice is to take a break for a week or two to let your skin heal inside some regular underwear. To avoid future irritation, she suggests opting for cotton thongs, which have more give than other materials, and possibly going up a size. “Thongs shouldn’t be painful,” she says. “If you notice it’s there, it’s too small.”
Related: 17 Ways To Show Your Butt Some Love
She recommends using Vaseline or a similar ointment to protect the skin and reduce friction, but advises against talcum powder (gyns typically don’t want you to use anything in or around the vagina, but talcum powder in particular comes with some unfounded but unsettling health-concern baggage).
As for the question of whether the skinny part of a pair can shuttle bacteria from your backside to your front parts, Millheiser says not to worry. “There’s fecal matter around the vagina all the time,” she affirms. (Phew?) “That’s why women get UTIs—E. coli is often present around opening.” That string between your cheeks isn’t making the situation any worse: “To get that area [of the underwear] touching the anus all the way to the opening of urethra you’d have to pull it all the way around and really rub it around,” she says. So, like, don’t do that and you should be all good.