"It’s like keeping wine in a cellar instead of on the kitchen counter."
August 10, 2018 3:22 PM   Subscribe

[…] the mavens of under-fashion still mostly align along the original poles: boxers versus briefs; feral versus domestic; low-rider comfort versus high-ball style. In recent years, that divide has gained an existential edge, with various studies suggesting that wearing tight-fitting underwear may be bad for the underwearer. Semen worsens in quality when exposed to higher-than-normal temperatures for too long. Could tighty-whities be a threat to humankind? This week, a team of researchers at Harvard published the largest and most definitive study of the subject to date, and the findings are compelling. “Men who wore non-boxers”—that is, briefs and their confining kin—“have significantly lower concentrations of sperm and lower sperm counts. […] It’s a numbers issue.”
(Alan Burdick, New Yorker)
posted by Johnny Wallflower (43 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
And, near the bottom of the article, with less handwringing:
Chavarro said that, although tight-fitting underwear clearly reduces sperm production, it probably doesn’t reduce the over-all fertility of the average tight-underwear wearer. Even the reduced semen measurements were well within the normal range.
posted by brainmouse at 3:43 PM on August 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

If ever a post needed a [more inside]....
posted by humuhumu at 3:46 PM on August 10, 2018 [14 favorites]

I remember jokes being made about this in the freaking 80's. How is this still not common knowledge?
posted by phooky at 3:57 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Wine cellars are not kitchen counters.
posted by y2karl at 4:13 PM on August 10, 2018

Scrotany is not scrutiny.
posted by y2karl at 4:15 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

how bout we ban briefs when we drop back to 1 billion, mkayy
posted by fritillary at 4:27 PM on August 10, 2018 [11 favorites]

Sounds like evolution is going to take care of this problem for us.
posted by Saxon Kane at 4:28 PM on August 10, 2018

I read that yesterday and appreciated how the writer stayed away from the obvious dick and ball jokes and only just this moment have I deduced why; he’s heard them all before.
posted by notyou at 4:29 PM on August 10, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm a little disappointed that it (obviously) doesn't reduce sperm count more. Imagine how nice it would be if birth control was just a matter of changing which kind of underwear you wear.
posted by thefoxgod at 4:31 PM on August 10, 2018 [17 favorites]

Dudes in whitey tighties aren't going to reproduce anyway, because no woman wants to jump a grown-ass man who still wears children's underwear.
posted by fluttering hellfire at 4:35 PM on August 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

I mean- I’ve never slept with anyone but I do like looking at male underwear models in tighty whiteys so maybe speak for yourself XD
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 4:39 PM on August 10, 2018 [21 favorites]

Well, as long as it tastes the same...
posted by sexyrobot at 4:42 PM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

Maybe people don’t know this but: briefs need not hold testicles tight against the body.

There’s a big difference between constricting speedos and a generous Fruit-o-the-loom.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:50 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

What percentage of men are actively trying to conceive at any given moment? This is an actual real issue for an absolutely miniscule slice of the nards-having population. Give it a fucking rest.
posted by saladin at 4:55 PM on August 10, 2018 [9 favorites]

tl;dr the effect appears temporary, with sperm counts increasing after twelve weeks in looser underwear.

So, not really relevant unless you're current having trouble fathering a child.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 4:59 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

Lifelong briefs wearer...

Four kids...
posted by Windopaene at 5:15 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Could have been six or eight.
posted by notyou at 5:20 PM on August 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Everyone's making jokes but there's been a concern about dropping sperm counts in the Western world. There's been something like a 50% decline in the last 40 years in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. There's lots of theories why, some fairly concerning. If something as simple as the clothing we wear accounts for half that 50% that's somewhat reassuring.
posted by Nelson at 5:33 PM on August 10, 2018

So if you're partial to banana hammocks or budgie smugglers, you have less chance of propagating that preference?
This is just evolution moving us towards a glorious future of speedo free beaches.

Our bodies are saving us from ourselves!
posted by madajb at 5:43 PM on August 10, 2018 [6 favorites]

Slightly more than half the men wore boxers; the rest wore briefs, boxer briefs, bikinis, or other tight-fitting underwear.

I'm surprised by that. I don't spend a lot of time around other dudes in their underwear, but whenever it occurs it is more like 1/10 boxers, 9/10 boxer briefs, 0/10 tighty-whiteys.

Of course, the three men who I know for certain wear boxers each have the most kids of anyone I know, so there is that.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:55 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

So this man is experiencing these terrible headaches. He sees doctor after doctor, test after test, treatment after treatment, but nothing works.

Finally he sees a doctor who tells him he's located the problem. His testicles are pressing into his spermatic plexus, and the nerve pain is causing his headaches. But the doctor tells him they can get rid of the headaches, but they'll have to remove his testicles.

By this point, the man is desperate for relief, and agrees to the procedure. The surgery happens, and when the man wakes up, no headache! A few days later, he's feeling better than he has in years, and passing a high-end men's shop, decides to treat himself to a new wardrobe, all the way down to his skivvies.

The old tailor gives him a well practice eye, and asks "So, 42 inch chest, 25 inch sleeve, no?"
"Why, yes!"
"Pants, what, 34 inch waist with a 32 inch inseam?"
"Boxers or briefs?"
"Men's medium briefs"
The tailor looks shocked. "You shouldn't wear a medium brief with your build, it would press your balls in and give you such a headache!"
posted by fings at 6:39 PM on August 10, 2018 [24 favorites]

Nothing matter less than male fertility at this point in our evolution.
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:53 PM on August 10, 2018 [12 favorites]

There's been something like a 50% decline in the last 40 years in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. There's lots of theories why, some fairly concerning.

Hah, there is brilliant Ted Chiang short story called "Seventy Two Letters" that deals with this question, a TOR archive of the story here.

He's won the Hugo four times, and won the Nebula four times.
posted by xdvesper at 7:00 PM on August 10, 2018 [3 favorites]

Dadburn it, fings, I was going to post that joke, which I think I first heard about 30 or 40 years ago.
posted by MovableBookLady at 7:30 PM on August 10, 2018 [1 favorite]

As a person supplied with a vagina/uterus setup, I was getting exasperated today with researching and chosing the right period underwear (and a bit taken aback by the prices), so the fact that scrotum-havers get to worry about underwear, too, cheers me up considerably.

As an aside, I totally get the appeal of having a penis (hello, Freud?), but have long suspected I would really not get any enjoyment out of having testicles. This is just further confirmation of my testicular prejudice.
posted by The Toad at 8:52 PM on August 10, 2018 [2 favorites]

As a testicles-haver of some vintage, I used to think that this was an example of particularly poor design. The older I get and the more I learn about what both myself and the vast bulk of other testicles-havers are actually like, the more I realise that this is not in fact the case.
posted by motty at 10:07 PM on August 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

All things considered, the whole kit works pretty well and don’t blame me I only work here.
posted by notyou at 10:19 PM on August 10, 2018

If briefs vs boxers affects male sperm production, are there other effects too, like testosterone levels? Like maybe that's why I can't seem to grow a beard. And while they're at it they might as well make a claim about boxers vs. briefs causing cancer because of hormone changes.
posted by polymodus at 10:56 PM on August 10, 2018

I wear boxer briefs intended for people with testicles. I do not posess testicles. I also have no wish to reproduce. So I don't have to worry about sperm quality and can go on my merry way, wearing what's comfortable to me. Thanks, boxer briefs 😘
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:22 AM on August 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

Boxer briefs are truly the best of both worlds, and honestly I find it a bit mystifying why anybody would still wear ordinary briefs when such a superior underwear option exists.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:32 AM on August 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

Underwear is a tool of control of The Man. Commando is freedom. And so economical too!
posted by Meatbomb at 6:44 AM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

So this hits me close to home. I sleep in boxers but where breifs during the day. The few occassions (laundry related or lazyness or peer pressure) that I have worn boxers during the day have ended in me exploding the legs on the boxers or tearing the crotches. Like don't you guys ever take the stairs two at a time or squat when you lift something heavy or go hiking or take one knee to work in something? And boxer briefs just become tourniquets. Briefs are for being active boxers are for fancy occasions. I'm not using all those sperm anyway.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:40 AM on August 11, 2018

Also, the mild but pervasive stigma against briefs is silly bullshit, like being left handed, or being a night owls, or liking unsweetend coffee, or wearing socks with sandals or green beans with your cheerios.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

Boxer briefs just seem exceptionally silly to me. Like "we added some pointless fabric around the leg so you can pretend like you don't actually find those uncool briefs more comfortable" silly.
posted by Zalzidrax at 8:29 AM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I find boxers uncomfortable, except to sleep in. My bits seem to move around a bit too much in them, also they bunch up weird in some of my pantaloons. Briefs, also get weird sometimes after using the bathroom and require adjustment. Boxer briefs seem to hit the perfect spot that keeps the bits in place and requires no adjustments. As to the moving around in them during exercise or heavy lifting, perhaps my bits are smaller? I don't seem to have those problems, and I'd say my workout regime is on the heavier side.
posted by evilDoug at 8:29 AM on August 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Boxer briefs stay in place like nothing else does (with the possible exception of duct tape). They don't attempt to boldly go where no underwear should ever go. They just. Stay. Where. They. Are.
posted by Too-Ticky at 11:59 AM on August 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The "pointless fabric" on boxer briefs keeps them from chafing one's groin creases.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 1:03 PM on August 11, 2018 [6 favorites]

Unfortunately if one's thighs get a little bit bigger, the leg parts of boxer briefs get squeezy. There is no ideal men's underwear for support, mobility, and lack of chafing. Perhaps a different sort of boxer briefs, with an elastic crotch and loose leg holes would do it. Hmm.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:30 PM on August 11, 2018

There are some days where my kids are absolutely nuts... On those days, this is why I put on 15 pairs of briefs.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2018

Boxer briefs exist because they are sexayyyy
posted by fluttering hellfire at 5:27 PM on August 11, 2018

optimizing the underwear may be attacking the problem from the wrong angle.

if we could all wear robes, then any of briefs, boxers, or boxer-briefs would be much more comfortable.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:48 PM on August 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

There is no ideal men's underwear for support, mobility, and lack of chafing.

YES THERE IS GODDAMMIT and they are the all-cotton full-cut Bonds Y-front briefs of the kind I have been wearing for fifty years, a style that's getting harder and harder to find because FASHION dictates that the shops must now offer me only fucking ridiculous ass-crack-invading boxer shorts or fucking ridiculous nothing-to-them budgie-smuggler hipster briefs or fucking ridiculous hybrid abominations embodying the worst misfeatures of both, and the waistband elastic is getting close to useless in my last dozen pairs of comfortable functional long-lasting navy-blue briefs and it's making me SO PISSED OFF.

As for sperm counts, I got a vasectomy twenty-five years ago and don't give a fuck. My testes like riding around in their luxurious little soft cotton hammock and fail to understand why commerce should say they need to stop.
posted by flabdablet at 7:22 AM on August 13, 2018

So, if Obama wears boxers and John McCain wore briefs, what does Donald Trump wear ?

posted by y2karl at 4:59 PM on August 31, 2018

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