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How Mormon Women Are Having Frank Talks About Sacred Underclothes

Not everyone is attached to the idea of preserving the garments. Lindsay Perez, 24, who lives in Salt Lake City, used to experience persistent urinary tract infections that she believes were made worse by her garments. She now leaves them off at night, and after she showers.

If she had her choice, she said, she would prefer to wear a cross necklace, or a ring — popular among young church members — with the letters C.T.R., a reference to the motto “Choose the Right,” a reminder to make ethical choices. “There are so many different ways to remind myself of what I’ve promised,” Ms. Perez said. “I don’t need that to be through my underwear.”

In private Facebook groups for women in the church, she said, garments are a constant topic of discussion, with some women hoping for improvements and others defending the garments as they are. But few women feel comfortable approaching male leaders to discuss bodily fluids, infections and sexual intimacy.

“People are scared to be brutally honest, to say: ‘This isn’t working for me. It isn’t bringing me closer to Christ, it’s giving me U.T.I.s,’” Ms. Perez said.

Open discussion is also thorny because the garments are frequent targets of mockery from outsiders. When Mitt Romney, a church member, was running for president in 2012, he was derided by some mainstream commentators for wearing “magic underwear.”

That kind of ridicule is “acutely painful,” said Jana Riess, a senior columnist for Religion News Service who writes about the church and who conducted the 2016 poll with a colleague.

It is especially hurtful because the garments symbolize a profound spiritual connection to God. “One of the most beautiful things about them is they are underwear,” Ms. Riess said. “It expresses my belief that there’s no part of my messy humanity that isn’t beloved of God.”

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