Ever looked down at the end of a workout to find a huge sweat stain gathering around your crotch? It’s embarrassing right? So why aren’t brands making clothes that can deal with sweat *down there*?
The other day, I unpacked a box-fresh pair of high-impact gym shorts to run in. They had deep pockets for phones, and came in a pale pink colour (a refreshing change to all my other black and navy shorts). After jogging for 10 minutes, I soon remembered why I don’t own any brightly coloured bottoms.
Islands of sweat had gathered around my crotch, with splodges of dark pink breaking up the lighter fabric. I looked as if I’d had an accident. Mercifully, I’d stopped at the end of my road, but I wondered how many people had seen me running with my sweaty triangle. Determined not to die of shame, I uploaded a picture of the moist situation to Instagram – simply to ask why brands haven’t yet clocked that women sweat from every orifice and need clothes to support that. It soon became clear that I wasn’t the only person wary of wearing lightly coloured shorts and leggings to run in.
But it’s not just running that can cause sweat to gather around your vagina. In fact, you might find that pale leggings start to gather moisture after a walk or gentle yoga session. So, why do we sweat down there, and what’s the deal with clothing not being able to wick away moisture?
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First off, it’s absolutely normal and healthy to produce sweat around the groin. You may think that it’s your vagina sweating (and honestly, who can tell where all this moisture is coming from when you’re sweating buckets), but it’s actually the surrounding area that contains apocrine glands.
Dr Bryony Henderson, lead GP at Livi, explains: “It is completely normal for lots of women to sweat around the groin area when exercising, so remember it’s nothing to be embarrassed about. This is because women have a high concentration of apocrine glands in the groin area (the same glands that we have in our armpits). If you are feeling a little self-conscious, wearing darker coloured, loose fitting and breathable workout bottoms in the gym can help to hide sweat.”
Why do we sweat around our crotch area?
If you feel like you’re sweating a wild amount (i.e. you can’t move for sweat stains starting on your yoga pants), then it’s worth chatting to your GP to see if there’s any underlying issues, like low blood sugar, diabetes or hormonal changes. But crotch sweats are part and parcel of exercising. “Noticing groin sweat is completely normal whether you’re working out or sitting in a hot car. However, excessive sweating in the groin region can occasionally be an indication of something else,” Dr Bryony explains.
“Common reasons are usually hormone related, like during pregnancy or menopause. Though sometimes it could be a side effect of medication, or another underlying health condition. It’s important to discuss it with your GP if you have any concerns, your doctor will be able to help work out the cause and possible treatment.”
When I put it to Instagram that it was high time brands started to make gym kits that actually support our natural bodily functions, Dr Bryna Chrismas, the founder of ethical athleisure label Ran By Nature, explained that the process was harder than you might imagine. “Any fabric against the skin will change colour as it absorbs the sweat – so certain colours won’t show this as much. And you can make sweat easier to evaporate with a more breathable fabric (i.e. not tight knit – think a more open-mesh style) – but then it’s more see-through, not as supportive or structured.”
Why don’t brands create sweat-wicking clothes?
But what about materials designed to wick sweat away? I tend to think that some ‘sweat-wicking’ t-shirts work, but that shorts are another kettle of fish. And Dr Chrismas kind of agreed: “I’m not aware of any fabric or tech at the moment that can evaporate the sweat so it doesn’t show. Ultimately, clothing is a barrier to evaporation and thermal balance. It reduces evaporation (and we rely 80% on evaporation to cool down) during exercise in the heat. Clothing also reduces convective cooling, so ideally when it comes to sweating, keeping cool – less is more.”
The issue perhaps is around the marketing of women’s gym clothing. Cute matching sets might look good on the grid or in a TikTok video but they may not stand up to a sweat test – and if brands tried to flog shorts with pictures of crotch stains, they’d struggle. “Sweat patches on the clothes don’t fit with the whole #fitspo ideal of women sparking and glowing (rather than sweating),” Dr Chrismas says.
“As there is no regulatory body, brands can say what they like in product descriptions. They can claim that a high-impact sports bra can wick sweat without any data to back up these claims. Brands hire copywriters who know what words to use to get customers to buy – so there’s a huge focus on branding and marketing.”
She also flags the importance of distinguishing between athleisure and performance sportswear. “Athleisure clothing is built around the premise that a product looks aesthetically pleasing, can be worn for a workout and function/perform well. But it’s also comfortable and aspirational enough to wear to brunch. As an athleisure brand, you’re not just thinking about performance, but also the lifestyle aspect when it comes to the fabric, construction, colour, fit etc.”
Nike or Under Armour, on the other hand, are creating a “specific sports product”, whose sole purpose is performance. “You’re going to consider and integrate (and hopefully test) the fabric for fit, comfort etc (in the lab doing biomechanics and physiology testing). You’re going to look at heat mapping/sweat mapping with the product on participants in the lab. And you can choose lighter weight fabrics by putting mesh in high sweat areas,and using as little fabric as possible – which is why running shorts are so short with those flaps and why you don’t see elite runners wearing high waisted shorts.”
Dr Chrismas sums it up best: “I would love to see more real images of women sweating in the clothing showing what the product looks like, with red faces, messy hair etc – not the airbrushed posed ‘active’ looks.”
How to reduce crotch sweats
While we wait for brands to come up with the perfect solution (all we want is buttery-soft, lightly coloured, high-impact, big-pocketed, inexpensive, breathable shorts – is that too much to ask?), there are a few things you can do to reduce sweat stains.
Choose breathable underwear
“Wearing breathable sports underwear is essential,” Dr Henderson says. “There is a wide range of technical materials on the sportswear market that can help to remove moisture produced by sweat, keeping you drier when exercising.”
Staying hydrated before, during and after exercise helps your body to better regulate your heat.
Wash your clothes on a hot wash
“Ensure you’re washing your workout clothes regularly on a hot wash to kill any bacteria and as tempting as it can be to sometimes stay in your workout clothes when you’re running short of time, try to schedule 10 minutes straight after your workout to take a shower and put clean clothes on,” Dr Henderson explains. “This can help to avoid developing vaginal yeast and bacterial infections. Try to avoid using talcum powder as this can block up pores and make things worse.”
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