“Boxers or briefs?” This is an icebreaker that can separate every man across the globe into two groups…excluding the occasional guy who shouts out “commando,” of course.
Awkward conversations and cheesy jokes aside, the question is actually one that’s sat in the center of legitimate conversations about men’s health for years.
Which is actually better for a man’s reproductive system?
Well, according to a recent study published on the Oxford University Press’ academic website, men who wear boxers have a higher sperm count than men who wear briefs. The study reviewed 656 men from couples that had been seeking treatment for infertility between 2000 and 2017, so if there were ever a group to study on this topic as it pertains to the boxers v briefs conversation, they would be your guys. All the men sled-reported which type of underwear they’d been wearing in the past three months and sperm samples were collected to analyze differences in sperm concentration, sperm count, motility and sperm morphology. The men wearing boxers were found to have not only a higher sperm concentration but also higher sperm count and higher motile count, according to the study.
“Men had a median (interquartile range) age of 35.5 (32.0, 39.3) years and BMI of 26.3 (24.4, 29.9) kg/m2,” the report findings read. “About half of the men (53%; n = 345) reported usually wearing boxers. Men who reported primarily wearing boxers had a 25% higher sperm concentration (95% CI = 7, 31%), 17% higher total count (95% CI = 0, 28%) and 14% lower serum FSH levels (95% CI = −27, −1%) than men who reported not primarily wearing boxers.”
“High scrotal temperatures have been associated with the alteration of [the] production of sperm,” Lidia Mínguez-Alarcón, a research scientist in the department of environmental health at Harvard University and the lead author of the study said.
The Mayo Clinic says that higher temperatures can have a direct negative impact on the production of sperm as well as affect how those sperm perform. According to Mínguez, wearing the tighter-fitting briefs does just that for a man. Tight clothing holds the testicles closer to the body, keeping them warmer just the same as holding your hands closer to your body would increase blood flow and keep them warm as well. Mínguez even points out that this is a specific evolutionary design for men, with the testicles outside the body where they can remain two to three degrees Celsius cooler.
Of course, this isn’t a definitive end-all-be-all to the boxers vs briefs discussion as it relates to sperm count. One variable that couldn’t be controlled in the study was that the sample group involved various couples seeking fertility treatment. With no way to control for which member of each couple — the man or the woman — may be experiencing fertility complications, the study couldn’t account for the potential fertility complications of each subjects’ partner. Nonetheless, the straightforward explanation for why keeping things cool is the way to go may be enough for plenty of men.