Does Tight Underwear Really Affect Sperm Count?

Can the choice of underwear (boxers or briefs) actually promote potency? Mike Dawson looks at the research.

Photo courtesy Wikicommons

When I was growing up, everyone wore J.Crew printed boxer shorts. An inch or three of plaid peeking out from your chinos was a style-must in my suburban high school. Along with this trend came the locker-room murmurs that these cotton free-ballers not only helped increase one's stamina (I promise you, they did not), but actually upped sperm count.

Now that everyone my age, both gay and straight, is trending toward procreating, the whole underwear discussion is rearing its head at dinner parties and even during a recent Bowl Game get-together.

The idea behind the rumor is that wearing boxers (or nada) allows your balls to react naturally to shifts in temperature: The scrotum drops away from the taint when too hot and rides nice and snug when too cold, helping ensure your 400 million or so at-the-ready sperm stay alive. But briefs—boxer-briefs and otherwise—hug your nuts too close for too long. In theory, this can cause scrotal hyperthermia, which overcooks your boys and lowers total payload.

So what's the score? Can what you wear—or don't—under there actually promote potency?

For the answer we turn to the wince-inducing Journal of Urology. Way back in 1998 it published a study testing the theory, noting what lay people and family doctors alike had bought into the rumor. But the study showed one's skivvy style actually had no bearing on sperm temperature or fertility, a conclusion confirmed by dozens of subsequent studies.

Still, there are ways to help strengthen your swimmers. You already know you should eat right, work out, and not smoke, but taking the laptop off your lap might help, too. Preliminary research shows the magnetic field from mobile computers may lower sperm count. Not cool MacBook Pro, not cool.

—Mike Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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