While my many years of writing in an instant-response forum has conditioned me to know exactly when I’m going to be facing a response to a post of epic butthurt, I was genuinely surprised by much of the knee-jerk defenses of thong underwear* that I got after writing this piece for Slate’s XX Factor, wherein I suggested that women should prioritize comfort over Teh Sexy while exercising. Interestingly, almost none of the women defending thong underwear actually addressed the actual argument of the post itself, which limited itself to arguing that women should skip thongs while exercising and go commando instead. The post had nothing to say about thongs in any other place but the gym, but almost every response I got involved defending the wearing of thongs during non-exercise times under non-exercise clothes. It’s almost as if thong wearers of America are walking around, feeling kind of guilty and defensive about their preferred choice of underwear, and are ready to trot out well-worn rationalizations at even the hint of criticism. Very interesting.
Because I feel bad about this turn of events, I thought it might be wise to make a confession: I myself used to be a routine thong-wearer.** Like many to most young straight women who became sexually active in the 90s, I started wearing thongs occasionally and then, gradually, they took over my underwear collection until it was all I had. The reason for this was simple: I wanted to be sexy. To be fair, the other options besides thongs in the 90s were pretty lean, mostly bikini-style panties with heavy elastic that sliced directly into your butt cheek and didn’t look good on anyone ever. So, if you wanted to be sexy, it seemed that thongs were your only option.
Then, as now, however, admitting that one was doing something to be sexy was strictly forbidden. Then, as now, there was an expectation that you try to play off your attempts at being sexy as something other than what they were, preferably something pragmatic.*** So I had all the usual excuses. I claimed to wear thongs because they were “more comfortable”, claiming that if I wore other underwear, it would all end up in there anyway, so why not. I claimed that I was trying to avoid the dreaded Visible Panty Line, a condition that was only discovered in the early 90s, despite known spottings of pencil skirts going all the way back to the 40s. I claimed I had a special shaped ass that only thongs would fit properly.
But after a few years of having my asshole pinched routinely day in and day out, doubts began to surface. For one thing, while VPL is admittedly a real problem, Visbile Thong Line was often even more difficult to disguise, especially in clingy skirts and slacks.**** You could avoid that problem by wearing jeans, of course, but then you had the alternate problem of having your thong trying to creep up past your waist line and alert the world to the kind of underwear you were wearing. I began to really question the wisdom that held that thongs were sexy, anyway, since they seemed more conducive to swamp ass and they tended to creep into areas they really weren’t supposed to.
Then, one day, I had a laundry snafu and ended up having to borrow a pair of my then-boyfriend’s boxer briefs. It was a revelation. Not only did I have no VPL or VTL or threat of either, but I was so comfortable, in ways I hadn’t even anticipated. It wasn’t just the lack of pinching, either. I experimented with them in jeans and found they kept denim from scratching at my tender ladybits. I tried them with skirts and found that they kept me from feeling like I was planting my bare ass on everything. They were great. They were also sexier than any of my own underwear, because they just hugged the skin without digging into it and creating lines or folds. Brilliance.
Armed with this new knowledge, I decided to start buying the female equivalent, which had started to just be marketed heavily, the “boy short”. As the years have gone by, it seemed to me that women’s underwear has gotten better all the time. Unlike the bad old days, it’s not hard at all to find panties that just hug your skin nicely instead of having thick elastic seams that dig into your hips or legs or ass cheeks. Sure, those horrible old bikini bottoms that cut a stripe of elastic across your ass are out there, but finding stuff that’s soft and comfortable and doesn’t leave lines and doesn’t ride up is easier now than ever, even at cheap shops like Target. For those occasions when I was wearing a skirt or dress that was tight enough to show the shape of my underwear, I didn’t delude myself any longer into thinking that a thong wasn’t just as visible. I just wore a slip instead. I honestly thought that thong underwear was like N’Sync, a relic of the 90s that had been replaced by the much smoother and classier low-elastic fuller panties, i.e. the Justin Timberlake of underwear. Sure, they still sold them, but I thought that was more for special sexytimes occasions, and not as a full-time thing.
Shows what I know. Apparently, women are still wearing thongs and still saying the same old things that I used to say to myself to feel less weird about having an entire underwear collection that made me vaguely uncomfortable all the time. I can’t tell if it’s that the world stayed exactly the same and my journey was just an outlier, or if 24/7 thong-wearing, like floral prints and Doc Martens,***** has made a comeback.
Well, regardless, it’s not the Great Feminist Issue of Our Time or anything, though part of me always does wish I could toss some sartorial torture devices in a trash can with my sister feminists like this was 1968 and we were revolting against those terrible bullet bras. Still, I maintain that even if you’re a devotee like I was back in the day, there’s no reason to wear thongs while you’re exercising. It’s not like you’re going to suddenly drop everything in the middle of yoga class to have some sex, so really, it’s okay.
Also, just so you know, you don’t have to wear them while you sleep, either. Give your butthole a break. No one needs to know but your proctologist.
*Talk about hurting your butt!
**Though never at the gym. That’s crazy talk.
***I have no idea why women aren’t allowed to say they’re wearing or doing something because they think it’s sexy. I don’t wear red lipstick so you can see me in the dark or miniskirts because I like having a breeze on my ass. I’m sick of pretending otherwise.
****I remember spending an entire wedding unable to pay attention to the ceremony because I couldn’t look away from the bridesmaid, whose dress had started to gather into her thong lines, creating this massive indentation over her ass cheeks that was so large there’s no way it didn’t show up in pictures.
*****Both of which I’m happy to see return, without any reservations.