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Cultural Crossovers Part 1 – Panties in the Shower

I love when social media reminds all of us in the diaspora just how much we have in common. It’s been responsible for trading insight on how we wash chicken all over the world, like those in the islands who use citrus for some razzle-dazzle. Its also been responsible for some less common crossovers, like taking a bath with Dettol soap or washing your panties in the shower. It is important to honor that science often doesn’t back up the cultural norms, because it is often not concerned with research that highlights the importance of Black contribution and ancestral wisdom. It’s not good enough to say ‘there’s no research on that’. Sometimes it may simply mean that research didn’t care enough. I am standing right on the line of culture and science and noticing that some of the customary language is the harmful part, not the actual practice. Let’s explore some of these trends and separate the harm from the habits.

The easiest one to tackle first is washing your panties in the shower. A harmless practice based in the cultural habit of cleanliness is practiced often in African and Carribean households. Women take their underwear with them into the shower and thoroughly wash them and hang them to dry. When they are dry, they come back and add them into their laundry. The what is harmless, but the why is a different story entirely.

First, the harmless reasons I collected online and through conversations are:

1. To make sure they’re truly clean before the wash
2. To prevent staining from discharge
3. To preserve a level of hygiene if you share laundry with your partner
4. “No idea, we just always did it”!

None of these items are egregious or harmful. Potentially harmful language passed down that I read in the comment sections online:

1. “Perfect PH will bleach your underwear”
2. “Your vagina is excreting bacteria because it’s self-cleaning”
3. “ I was so worried about the bleaching that I wear panty liners every day”

Language that treats our vaginas like dirty caves can always affect our relationship to it. Yes the vagina is self-cleaning, but that happens by a constant dance of yeast and bacteria. It does not happen by “excreting bacteria”. That would mean your vulva, lips, and underwear are full of bacteria. That is not conducive for a positive relationship with your vagina nor is is sexy for sex. Which leads to “perfect PH will bleach your underwear”. Not only is this not accurate, it is promoting a health ideal that is synonymous with a liquid acidic enough to bleach something. Having discoloration on your underwear is not the end of the world and bleaching is not something you expect from normal discharge. There is no reason to wear panty liners out of fear, as underwear are designed to be breathable because this decreases the incidence of ph issues like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis. Be aware of differences in how it feels (like irritated or itchy) or sharp smells. Let your vaginas be free to breathe, flow, heat up, cool down, etc. without equating your underwear’s appearance to the health of your vagina.

Byline – Crystal Saiyge is a Black woman, sex-positive interfaith minister, wife, and mom of four. Her virtual chapel, #Churchofthebando is a liberated space for global spirituality, thoughtful inspiration, grief counseling, sex-positive education and trap karaoke. Visit for more info.