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Healthy Man

Fatherhood and the Brief Matter of Boxers

October 26, 1998|KRISTL I. BULURAN

Trying to become a father? Then consider the briefs-versus-boxers issue. The choice you make could mean a difference of 20 million or so sperm making it to that precious sought-after egg.

When talking about male infertility, we need to get down and talk about the basics: boxer shorts versus briefs. While not the most important issue in male infertility, it is definitely a consideration for couples trying to get pregnant. For male fertility, the most common problems are poor sperm motility (how well they swim) and a low sperm count. This is where boxer shorts come in.

Sperm are produced in the testicles (the process is called spermatogenesis), but they require specific conditions for production, particularly temperature. Normal body temperature is too warm for optimum sperm production, which is why the testicles hang outside of the body. The idea follows that spermatogenesis may be affected when wearing briefs because they restrict the testicles and insulate them to body temperature.

One study showed a significant difference in sperm production and motility among men who initially wore loose-fitting underwear and then switched to tight-fitting underwear. The study concluded that wearing tight-fitting underwear instead of boxer shorts impairs sperm quality. However, the number of participants in the study was very small; only nine men completed the study, not nearly enough to generalize the results. So, the notion that boxers are better than briefs in terms of male fertility is, for now, largely intuitive.

While the debate goes on as to the extent that wearing boxer shorts improves sperm quality, most experts on male infertility will agree that it is a good idea for men to avoid wearing tight, restrictive underwear, especially when couples are trying to conceive.

It is important to note there are other factors that contribute to male infertility, with low sperm count being just one of them. Thus, experts also agree that to help increase male fertility with respect to sperm production and sperm motility, you should avoid or stop smoking, avoid frequent dips in the sauna or hot tub, and make sure you eat healthily, get exercise and watch your weight.

So, wearing boxers is perhaps just one simple answer to what may be a more complex problem. Generally, couples who have not conceived after a year of trying should consult their primary care physician, who may refer them to a doctor who specializes in infertility.

But science aside, I personally think boxers just look better. They come in different colors, patterns and fabrics, and leave much to the imagination. They're just sexier, I think. And since another way to increase your odds of becoming a father is to have sex more often, wearing boxer shorts may be the way to go.

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The Healthy Man runs every other Monday in Health.

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