Girl On The Net | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Winning The PantyChallenge Is As Impossible As It Is Undesirable

Winning The PantyChallenge Is As Impossible As It Is Undesirable

The Debrief: Of all the things in life you could possibly freak out about, the amount of discharge on your knickers probably shouldn't be one of them

I never thought I’d say this, but I’ve just done an audit of my knickers. Of the roughly thirty five pairs I own around 10 have weird stains in the crotch. Some are pants I accidentally leaked period blood into and failed to soak properly before washing, while others have become bleached through years of daily vaginal discharge. 

Why don’t I throw these pants away? Well, because I don’t have much money, and they’re comfy pants, and most importantly because if I replaced them it wouldn’t be long before the next batch started turning brown/yellow/white/autumn sunrise. Let’s face it – vaginal discharge happens every day, and maintaining a shop-fresh knicker drawer takes more effort than almost any of us would be willing to go to. 

Almost any of us. 

Recently Twitter kicked off about something called the ‘panty challenge.’ It began when one woman posted a picture of her day-old knickers and challenged others to do the same. The idea being that the cleaner your knickers, the better you are as a human being. Apparently a lack of vaginal mucus in your underwear marked you out as the Queen of Sexiness, a bit like pulling the sword out of the stone made you the future king of England.

Let’s get the facts out of the way first: vaginal discharge is normal. Not ‘normal’ like ‘oh you’d be surprised how many of us have it’, but normal like ‘literally everyone who was born with a vagina will leak stuff from it at some point.’ Just like everyone who has armpits should sweat, and everyone with a mouth should salivate. Mucus (aka vaginal discharge) is there to keep your vagina clean and healthy, and it also acts as a kind of advance warning system if there’s something wrong. Think of it like Twitter itself: it’s there everyday, and it can sometimes be annoying, but its existence means you’re the first to know when something bad has happened. If you’re worried about vaginal discharge – like you’re leaking some kind of unusual colour or texture, check out our guide on different types of vaginal discharge

Although the originator of the #PantyChallenge seemed pretty serious about her desire for clean kecks, very few other people felt compelled to join in. Most of the discussion on the #pantychallenge hashtag focuses on how bizarre the concept is, and if anything the challenge seems to have sparked a pretty useful and healthy discussion about vaginal mucus. 

 Le #PantyChallenge, le défi à la con qui rend dingue Internet https://t.co/L0eDiDKRw5 pic.twitter.com/eEejhhhB0E

I don't believe in perpetuating the misogynistic idea that women need to be "dry" to be "clean". #pantychallenge pic.twitter.com/M1QvB4QMfL

 Oooops think this one is a fail #PantyChallengepic.twitter.com/N0rfoIz9Ne

It just goes to show: one person’s failed attempt to bodyshame us about fanny batter is another person’s opportunity for a spot of mythbusting. But the PantyChallenge lady isn’t the only person with the misconception that vaginal discharge is abnormal, and in a way she’s not to blame for being mistaken: can you remember the last time you saw knickers with a healthy degree of minge-leakage anywhere other than on your own bedroom floor? 

The squeaky-clean images we’re presented with on TV and in porn all add to the clean-panties myth. During the build-up to sex scenes on TV, dozens of times I’ve watched the camera pan past a pair of discarded knickers in a sex scene, and yet I honestly can’t remember one that included a crotch smear. Same goes for porn, obviously: pants are part of the ‘costume’ and so are only put on about three minutes before the camera starts rolling, so you rarely spot so much as a droplet of quim. Likewise adverts – even ads for washing powder and panty liners - never show actual discharge. Just as Big Macs on TV are perfect and juicy rather than the saggy and lopsided things you’ll pick up before you hop on a night bus. They show the aspiration rather than the reality. 

But we shouldn’t really even think of clean knickers as an ‘aspiration.’ That’s what the PantyChallenge was trying to do, after all – say ‘hey ladies, we know you usually leak like a faulty drainpipe, but can you at least try not to?’ To make us aspire to something impossible – like a Barbie physique that would have us all in hospital or a pair of boobs that literally defy gravity. When it comes to our bodies, we’ve had far too much aspiration shoved in our faces – it’s time for a bit of realism. 

Picture it: a gritty arthouse film that shows the hero smothered in sweat and blood, and which continues the ‘realistic’ theme by giving us a glimpse of milky-white gusset during the sex scene. An advert for Daz Washing Powder that challenged people to wash not shirts with grass stains but knickers that you’d accidentally bled on. We literally live in this world already – why shouldn’t our media reflect it? 

It’s not just the media that’s responsible – personally I’ve not exactly been great at challenging the idea that vaginal discharge is somehow ‘dirty’ or ‘weird.’ When I was younger I used to kick my knickers under the bed when I stripped off, lest a lover should spot that they weren’t quite as box-fresh as they are in porn. Or I’d scream “NO NO I’LL DO IT” if a boyfriend offered to hang out my wet laundry. One of my ex boyfriends spotted a bit of juice in my knickers and asked if there was something wrong with my insides: he’d got used to the clear-ish/white discharge that I get every day, and wanted to make sure that when the slightly-brown-pre-period phase began I wasn’t about to burst into flames or something. I think I mumbled something to him telling him not to worry, then simply doubled my efforts to hide my gusset in case he ever asked again. 

Now, though, I’m older and exhausted: not just from doing all the bloody washing, but from feeling like I should hide something which happens to so many people. These days my partner is as used to my stained knickers as he is to my hangover sweat, and tendency to fart in the bath. He accepts it as part of the way my body works, as I accept the smell of his balls after a four-hour cycle ride or the way his feet smell when he wears the cheap trainers. Yesterday, as I was hanging laundry with my other half, I asked him what he thought about my gussets. His response: 

'Listen, if I’m doing the laundry, I am far too annoyed about doing housework to worry about what your pants look like.' 

Beyond that first five minutes in the morning, your pants will be a veritable watercolour palette of interesting mucus. From clear to brown to what one of my friends rather delightfully described as ‘cottage cheese’ if you have thrush. While the occasional unusual colour or smell might mean you want to see a doctor, none of them mean you’re worth less as a person.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

What Does Your Discharge Actually Mean? We Break It Down 

Women On Reddit Discuss 'Smelly Vaginas'. Here Are 5 Things We Learned 

All Hail The Arrival Of Period Proof Underwear That Means You'll Never Leak Again

Douching: What Is It And Should I Do It?

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Tags: Sex, Sex O\'Clock, Sex Ed, Health