SEX FILES: Coming clean about your partner’s hygiene

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If you’ve ever suffered through a bout of chin acne following a steamy hookup or awoken at a lover’s house with a mane that felt like it had been dipped in a grease trap, you may have experienced what the internet is calling “boyfriend air.”

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According to the website Know Your Meme, “boyfriend air” is the theory that your appearance suffers whenever you spend an extended period of time with your significant other. Examples include unexpected breakouts, bad hair days and the sensation of not feeling as clean as one would after showering solo at home.

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Skincare experts and TikTok content creators alike attribute this mysterious phenomenon to a variety of factors, including exposure to facial hair, new laundry detergent and body care products that occurs when you’re intimately involved and sleeping with someone new. As skincare expert Rachael Robertson, founder of Bedew Skin told My Imperfect Life says: “All of these things can cause flare ups/breakouts or rashes and rub off makeup without us even realizing.”

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However, the “boyfriend air” phenomenon could also be a result of your partner’s overall hygiene practices. As Robertson points out in the above-mentioned piece, “It also goes without saying they may not wash their sheets/pillowcases as much as you, which can be another culprit as you’re now laying in the dead skin, sweat and bacteria of two people! Lovely.”

As gross as this may be to think about, it’s not uncommon for couples to have mismatched habits when it comes to hygiene, personal care and home cleanliness.

“Each person brings their own upbringing, habits and personal preferences into a relationship and these differences can manifest in various areas, including hygiene and cleanliness routines,” says Ann Russo, LCSW, a clinical director and psychotherapist at AMR Therapy.

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Before you sound the alarm bells, Russo says “it is important to recognize that everyone has their own standards and practices when it comes to these matters and it is not necessarily indicative of a larger issue in the relationship.”

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With that being said, it can be beneficial to have discussions about sheet washing, detergents and body care early on in a dating relationship. “While it may seem like a trivial topic, personal care and cleanliness can significantly impact an individual’s overall well-being and self-esteem. By discussing these topics, you can gain insight into each other’s values, habits and expectations, and potentially identify any potential areas of mismatch early on,” says Russo.

Suzannah Weiss, resident sexologist for the pleasure product brand Biird, agrees. “I probably wouldn’t grill someone about this on the first few dates, or they could feel judged,” says Weiss. However, she adds that once you start visiting each other’s places, it might be time to bring up these topics – gently, that is.

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Even when your intentions are good, discussing hygiene and cleanliness is a highly sensitive matter. For this reason, Russo says “it is crucial to approach the conversation with empathy, respect, and a genuine desire to improve the situation rather than criticizing or shaming them.”

If you’re itching to discuss your partner’s choice in laundry soap (or maybe the fact that their pillow looks like it’s been backed over by a Land Rover), Russo encourages people to find a calm and private setting where you are both comfortable discussing sensitive topics. Listen actively and allow your partner to share the “why” behind their habits. When addressing their habits use “I” statements. Russo says: “For example, say, ‘I have noticed that I feel uncomfortable when the sheets are not washed regularly’ instead of ‘You never wash the sheets.’”

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Weiss says it can also be helpful to focus on the effect their habits have on you. For example, this could mean telling your partner: “I tend to break out if I sleep with sheets that haven’t been washed in over a week. Would you be able to wash your sheets more often? This would make it easier for me to stay over with you more often,” she says.

The right partner will want to ensure you’re comfortable. “It is a good test of someone’s level of commitment and consideration, whether they are willing to do this,” says Weiss.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to expressing your needs and cooperating to find solutions that work for both of you. While it may feel awkward to broach the subject, “open and honest communication from the start can help set a foundation of understanding and compromise,” says Russo. In other words, being open with your partner about their cleanliness and hygiene habits can — quite literally — clear the boyfriend air.


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