Underwear: nothing is quite right

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I had a short Twitter thread yesterday while I was getting dressed where I mentioned that I kinda have a love / hate relationship with underwear.

This is a rather personal topic, so I’ve generally not written about it much. But it’s part of my autistic life so I figure it’s worth a short article.

This is a quick summery of the issues I have with underwear, some of the features of underwear I wish I could buy and some of the reasons why underwear causes so many damn emotions.

All the options are bad.

In my life right now I have 5 types of underwear available to me:

  • sports underwear
  • close fitting boxes
  • loose fitting boxer
  • active pants (aka, pull up)
  • slips (aka, nappy with tapes)

From that list I bet you can guess which ones I’ve been hesitant to write about!

They all have flaws. Either sensory issues, logistical issues, dressing and undressing issues, environmental issues or emotional issues.

My ideal underwear

My idea underwear would have the following features.

Seamless - the underwear should have no seams where there’s a lump or change in texture. This is the biggest barrier with most standard underwear. The seams are perfectly placed to cause me a lot of discomfort. The nappies and pull ups tend to be easier but are still far from ideal.

Easy to put on - the underwear should be easy to put on. No tapes or other fiddly crap and no specific front or back direction. I should be able to pull them on with numb hands in the dark without being able to see anything.

Trustworthy - I often won’t make it to the loo in time. Either because I can’t feel that I need to go till it’s too late, I’m in a situation where a loo isn’t accessible to me (or has too many barriers to be usable), or i am absorbed in something and I don’t act on the need to go till it’s too late. I want underwear which buys me time. I might only need ‘protection’ for a few minutes. I need to have absolute trust that it won’t let me down.

Easy to remove - ideally something with tearable sides. So if I am having a bad day with very numb hands I don’t get stuck in underwear I can’t physically remove. I can’t always stand up and I often can’t pull things down and off. Going to bed in yucky sweaty pants because I don’t have the ability to pull them off is a miserable experience. Having someone ‘help’ is even worse.

Environmentally friendly - ideally these pants would last a good while and be easy to clean. Most of the time they will just be normal pants and when they are disposed of I don’t won’t them to sit in a landfill for 10,000 years decomposing. They shouldn’t need special washing and ideally shouldn’t needed disposable liners etc.

My current solution

My current solution is to try and guess what will happen each day and then pick from the options I have.

If we’re going for a bike ride then I tend to pick the sports pants. They are the most comfortable for riding, but they can quickly become a truly terrible texture. The seams annoy the hell out of me and I have to be extremely proactive with loo management. It does help that there’s always somewhere to pee in a forest.

If I’m just going to home alone all day it depends a lot on how spaced out and impaired I am that day.

On a good day, close fitting boxers can work well. As long as I am really proactive about going to the loo often enough and won’t get distracted.

Standard close fitting boxers are what I wish I could default too, but life gets a bit complicated.

If I am out and about I tend to go for the pull ups or the taped nappies. I can’t be sure when or if I can find a loo and if I am in the cafe I can’t be sure I’ll have enough time to pack away and head to the loo before it’s too late.

I am also using the nappies or pull ups more at home at the moment due to the ADHD meds.

The meds give me a dry mouth so I drink more, plus they effect my senses making it harder for me to know when I need to go to the loo. The pull up nappies are very expensive (and the NHS provided mesh products hilariously unreliable for someone who moves lots) so I’ve generally defaulted to using the taped nappies.

They are very cheap, generally costing me around 34p a day which is a bargain for how much they can help.

However the taped nappies have a massive flaw. With numb hands it can be very hard to change into them, not to mention the multiple hours I may spend fighting my brain and the relevant emotions to accept them. Sometimes it’s easier if I buy a premium brand which are less medical, but sometimes that just feels like a waste of money.

The irony is once I am changed they tend to make the day much much easier and less anxious. They often save the day. Especially with something like a day of long zoom calls where I may be very distracted and busy.

Acceptance is an ongoing process and this is one area which frequently becomes more emotional than it should be. It’s been going on for 20 years, but it’s complex. Sometimes I accept them, sometimes I despise them. The nappies make life easier and make me happier. Once I’ve got over the initial issue. The emotions are also easier if I use them routinely and consistently. The emotions can be easier if they are part of my support routine, a gentle prompt at the right time can be useful.

In a round about way I hope writing about it will help with my own acceptance. Secrecy just breeds shame.

Final thoughts

This topic has come up a bunch of times during talks I’ve given. I’ve got various slides in some of my presentations on this topic but this is the first time I’ve written about it directly.

I think honesty is useful. Some parts of autistic life can be tricky and a bit complicated. This area is one of them.

A few years ago I had a chat with a manufacturer about designing my perfect underwear. It was an expensive endeavour (£100-150k!) but perhaps something I can explore in the future.

Till then I’ll just make peace with the options I have and try to be positive about it. I’m going through a unusually bad patch right now so the emotions are definitely harder than normal. The solutions I have work pretty well, even if the do test my ability to accept myself to the extreme.


Spaced Out & Smiling is about exploring the fun side of Autism, and trying to understand what it means to be Autistically Happy.

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