Not everyone is attached to the idea of preserving the clothes. Lindsay Perez, 24, who lives in Salt Lake City, suffered from persistent urinary tract infections which she believes were made worse by her clothing. She now leaves them out at night and after showering.
Given the choice, she would rather wear a cross chain or ring – popular with young church members – with the letters CTR, a reference to the motto “choose the right thing,” a reminder to make ethical choices. “There are so many different ways to remember what I promised,” said Ms. Perez. “I don’t need this through my underwear.”
In private Facebook groups for women in the church, she said clothing is a constant topic of discussion, with some women hoping for improvement and others defending the clothing as it is. But few women feel comfortable approaching male leaders to talk about body fluids, infections, and sexual intimacy.
“People are afraid to be brutally honest and say, ‘That doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t bring me closer to Christ, it gives me urinary tract infections, ‘”said Ms. Perez.
An open discussion is also tricky because the garments are often ridiculed by outsiders. When Mitt Romney, a church member, ran for president in 2012, he was mocked by some mainstream commentators for wearing “magical underwear”.
This kind of ridicule is “very painful,” said Jana Riess, a senior columnist for the Religion News Service who writes about the church and who conducted the 2016 poll with a colleague.
It is especially hurtful because the robes symbolize a deep spiritual connection with God. “One of the nicest things about them is that they are underwear,” said Ms. Riess. “It expresses my belief that there is no part of my messy humanity that is not loved by God.”