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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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November 06, 2012

Boxers or Briefs?

By Mark Sisson
112 Comments

Boxers or Briefs?Believe it or not, it’s a question I get fairly often: “Grok didn’t wear tighty-whities. Should I?”

From time to time, I like to have some fun and expand the scope of this blog beyond the regular topics. Health and wellness, after all, come down to far more than just diet and exercise (and sleep and sun and stress, for that matter). So I’ve written about everything from the benefits of squat toiletsgoing poo-less, and stand-up workstations to the dangers of excessive sitting, nighttime light exposure, and passive living. Today, I’m going to branch out again. Today, I’ll attempt to answer what sages, wise men, gurus, and guys sitting around in gym locker rooms could not: boxers or briefs (or nothing at all)? So fill your cup and let’s dig in.

This topic was prompted by a reader’s email:

I thought this could be an entertaining topic.

We’ve all seen the Seinfeld episode where Kramer starts wearing boxers when Elaine tells him boxers are better for his sperm count.

Is there any hormonal drawbacks associated with briefs that could be caused by the low sperm count or vice versa?

Our ancestors were certainly “out there, and loving every minute of it.”

Sean

Here’s the Seinfeld clip in question:

Having watched that, I’m not even sure a post is necessary. Kramer pretty much covers it. Still, not everyone has access to YouTube at work, so I’ll continue.

I’m not going to discuss the subjective effects of wearing boxers, briefs, or nothing at all. People have their preferences. Some people like providing a safe, secure, snug house for their boys, while others take a more free-range approach. No value judgements cast here.

But what’s our natural state?

While it could be argued that going commando is “most natural,” seeing as how we’re all born in the Hanes-less state, I’d say that loose-fitting boxers are pretty close to natural, too. Loincloths were the earliest undergarments, and those were essentially just a piece of fabric loosely looped between the legs. Plenty of air flow and very little confinement. Grok’s private bits definitely breathed, whether he wore a loincloth or nothing. Okay, so one is more natural than the other(s), but does that make a difference for our health? Natural doesn’t always mean better, you know.

“Everyone knows” that wearing tight briefs reduces sperm count, and I briefly discussed this in a Dear Mark that asked about laptops and infertility. It’s true that scrotal heat stress does have the potential to affect sperm quality, count, and motility, as in men with varioceles – enlarged testicular veins that lead to excessive blood flow, elevated scrotal temperatures, and sometimes infertility – but it’s unclear whether choice of underwear represents a significant-enough thermal stress to the scrotum to induce negative changes. The questions we must ask are: does the choice of underwear truly affect scrotal temperatures? And if it does, is it sufficient to negatively affect male fertility? Let’s look at the evidence:

In one study, healthy young men wearing tight-fitting polyester-lined athletic support garments consistently displayed elevated scrotal temperatures between 0.8 and 1 degree C. This increase, however, did not affect any fertility parameters, including sperm concentration, sperm motility, sperm morphology, sperm viability, sperm hyperactivation, and the ability of sperm to penetrate hamster oocytes (sadly, no hamster-human hybrids were created throughout the course of this study).

Another study found no difference in scrotal temperatures between wearers of boxers and wears of briefs. In fact, the average temperature was actually a hair lower in the brief group, though it wasn’t significant. Fertility parameters all checked out, as well.

In another study, the author measured how various garments and positions affected his own scrotal temperature. Boxers were 0.5 degrees C cooler than briefs. Scrotal slit underpants were 1.2 degrees cooler than boxers. Sitting with thighs apart was 1.6 degrees cooler than sitting with thighs together. He didn’t measure his fertility parameters, however, so we don’t know whether or not those were affected.

And finally, a team of researchers studied the effects of boxers, briefs, and going commando on the scrotal temperatures of 50 healthy men without a history of infertility. They found conclusive evidence that wearing tight-fitting underwear such as briefs resulted in elevated scrotal temperatures, though it “remains to be elucidated whether these differences are linked to semen quality and consequently male fertility.”

Choice of fabric might make a difference, too. In an Egyptian study, one researcher used polyester slings (that allowed penis exposure but kept the scrotum confined) to induce azoospermia – the state of having no measurable sperm in semen – in previously fertile men. These were like briefs on steroids, fully preventing the tendency of the scrotum to “hang low” (which it does for thermoregulatory purposes). They caused the testicular temperatures to approach the rectal temperatures, which is way hotter than testicles are built to withstand and which apparently contributed to the infertility. But the author also thought that scrotal-polyester friction-induced electrostatic charges might have played a role as well. To figure out which was responsible, that same researcher did a followup study, this time using dogs in specially-fitted underwear. To eliminate the confounder of scrotal temperature, he made the underwear loose fitting. And sure enough, testicular temperature didn’t change much. Not even in the polyester group. The dogs wore the underwear for 12 months straight. Once again, the polyester underpants killed fertility (without affecting temperature), while cotton underwear dogs and control dogs (commando) experienced no change. I was alive during the seventies, and I can certainly vouch for the friction that occurs between bare skin and polyester.

As for the hormonal stuff? While scrotal temperature changes do affect follicle stimulating hormone, which controls sperm quality and count, they do not seem to affect testosterone levels. Fertility can be affected, but not via testosterone.

I wish I could give you an absolute proclamation, here, but I can’t. How about some general guidance?

  • If you’re having trouble conceiving, or your sperm count comes back low, and you wear briefs or some other tight-fitting underwear, switching to boxers, or cotton, or nothing at all might help. Either way, it’s not going to hurt.
  • Normal scrotal temperature – the kind that promotes fertility – is one or two degrees C below body temperature. As seen in the Egyptian study, once the scrotal temperature approached the rectal (body) temperature, fertility was impaired. The best way to measure your scrotal temperature is with an infrared thermometer, which can be a bit pricey.
  • Don’t wear tight fitting underwear – polyester or not – for 12 months straight. Give your boys some time off, whether that comes through targeted ice baths, walking around (walking and standing and even running lead to cooler scrotums than sitting) more, or switching to more forgiving undergarments.
  • Switch to a natural fabric, whether it’s cotton, animal skin, or nothing.
  • Don’t be in such a rush to always replace your underwear with a gaping hole in the crotch. It might actually be helping, especially if it facilitates scrotal drooping.

Thus, as is usually the case, there’s no right or wrong answer here. While wearing tight-fitting briefs can increase scrotal temperature, which can affect fertility, it’s not a sure thing. The research is unclear, and the ultimate choice rests in your hands. Go ahead and mess around with infrared thermometers if you’re really concerned, and get your sperm count tested, but you probably don’t have much to worry about as long as you’re adhering to the general guidelines listed above.

So, dear readers, what say you – boxers or briefs?

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112 Comments on "Boxers or Briefs?"

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Primal V
Primal V
3 years 10 months ago

That’s it – my better half is getting a loincloth for Christmas!

Steve the Pilot
Steve the Pilot
3 years 10 months ago

What about during workouts? Especially runs and sprints. I was always told to wear tight underwear during runs to prevent things from bouncing around too much and getting damaged.

dennis
dennis
3 years 10 months ago

Let your junk bounce free!!!

Wayne
3 years 10 months ago

I use under armor compression shorts when I work out. I find that there is less chaffing than if I wear boxers. If my balls are really tight against my body for an hour or two, will that have a negative impact on fertility?

lockard
lockard
3 years 10 months ago

these are made out of poly type stuff right?

Luke DePron
Luke DePron
3 years 10 months ago

I’ve always been under the impression during sprints you need to wear tight fitting boxer briefs to avoid testicular twisting where the bloods supply can get cut off. A quick google calls it “testicular tortion”. Seems some other issues may be at play but I’m going to protect the boys during exercise with some boxer briefs.

Ben
Ben
3 years 10 months ago

I knew a guy who had to have surgery to correct that. Quite painful. Not that I have any insight as to the current topic. Just felt like sharing.

dennis
dennis
3 years 10 months ago

Cotton=pesticides Hemp or cotton=no pesticides. I wear hemp boxers although pricey at $38 a pair, best pair of underwear I ever owned. I have two pair and me thinks I need them in all the colors.

dennis
dennis
3 years 10 months ago

i mean organic cotton=no pesticides

rob
rob
3 years 10 months ago

I turned my back on underwear several years ago, I let the boys hang loose as nature intended.

steve
steve
3 years 10 months ago

I can pretty much guarantee the comment of the week will come from this article. I’d be willing to bet it also uses the phrase “scrotal drooping.”

andyinsdca
andyinsdca
3 years 10 months ago

“What’s worn under the kilt?”
“Nothing, ma’am, it’s all in perfect working order.”

Dani
3 years 10 months ago

Well, I’m definitely partial to boxer briefs. They’re so cute!

Primal Toad
Primal Toad
3 years 10 months ago

That’s what this Toad where’s – exefficio boxer briefs. Perfect for traveling 🙂

Vishnu N S
Vishnu N S
2 years 10 months ago

I totally agree Sir! Exofficio has been a real pleasure to wear 🙂

J. Delancy
3 years 10 months ago

A greater and more overlooked threat to your swimmies is your cellphone kept in a pants pocket. Grok sure as hell never thought that microwaving his ball sack would be a good idea, neither should you.

dennis
dennis
3 years 10 months ago

luckily its getting cold so my cellphone will be kept in my jacket pocket, so hopefully someone wont be stealing my outdated droid x

Primal Toad
Primal Toad
3 years 10 months ago

So true. I’ve been keeping my cell phone in my backpack more recently to not spend so much time on it. I guess this is a side benefit!

Siren
Siren
3 years 10 months ago

holy crap!!! XD lol

Jordan Tuwiner
3 years 10 months ago

I really need to start keeping it in my backpack when walking to class.

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[…] reps 1 min Wallballs 1 min Rest 1 min BL Burpees 1 min Rest Don’t forget to vote…for boxers or briefs! This entry was posted in Workouts by Gym Punch. Bookmark the […]

K
3 years 10 months ago

Middle-aged comedians joke about their sagging ballsacks. How they have to move them to sit. How the dangling mess is always in the way. Like a bra, tighty whities support that thin skin so you aren’t a sagging mess later in life. Your decision but plan for your future.

Marisa
Marisa
3 years 10 months ago

It is my understanding that it is a myth that bras prevent breasts from sagging.

W.J. Purifoy
W.J. Purifoy
3 years 10 months ago

It is totally a myth about bras preventing anything except fun.

Ann
Ann
3 years 10 months ago

Actually, Bras prevent breast ligaments from over stretching. While they might not eliminate all possibility of saggy boobs, a proper fitting bra will definitely help prevent breasts from sagging (ask my 92 year old grandmother, haha).

Lauren
Lauren
3 years 10 months ago

It is a myth indeed, as far as I can tell. While bras do prevent the ligaments from stretching, they also prevent the ligaments from doing their job of holding up a breast. So, they get weak and it leads to sag anyway. Those puppies are going to sag if they want to no matter what we do. Non-sagging seems to be completely out of our control.

Joy Beer
Joy Beer
3 years 10 months ago

Without embarrassing my little mum, she’s still pert at 81, and I’m in the footsteps at 47. Of course, micro-bosoms are gravity-agnostic to start with…

Joy Beer
Joy Beer
3 years 10 months ago

Point being that bras may help.

Chris
3 years 10 months ago

It’s my understanding, thin skin is a result of natural aging, and cannot be prevented by garmentry.

In other words, skin continues to lose it’s bouyancy with age. Nothing will ever prevent the droop bar surgery.

wendy
wendy
3 years 10 months ago

Totally anecdotal, but… my husband has always required a snug home for his boys, and we’ve got four kids…

squelchbaker
squelchbaker
3 years 10 months ago

serves me right for reading the comments… did not need to know, mom!! 😀

Vishnu N S
Vishnu N S
2 years 10 months ago

Ha ha that was quite a funny incident!

Malachi
Malachi
3 years 10 months ago

At my age, I could honestly care less about fertility 🙂 but…I still go commando. an old habit from the military that I have yet to experience any desire to break.

I also run and work out with the same. throw on the sweats and go. I have never experienced any issues with soreness or anything else even in full sprints. only time i get sore is when im getting kicked there :)But, that’s what cups are for.

Primal Toad
Primal Toad
3 years 10 months ago

I was a boxer dude my whole life. I now own 3 pair of exefficio boxer briefs. They are PERFECT for traveling. I wash them in the shower and they can dry in a few hours.

This: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B001M0MN16?dpm=1&pi=SL75&qid=1352223165&ref_=mp_s_a_1&sr=8-1-spell (NOT an affiliate link)

Ah the simple life is so beautiful….i

Seph
Seph
3 years 10 months ago

I’ve actually had better results with Merino Wool than Exefficio.

I recommend Smartwool underwear, and Icebreaker shirts.

It’s INCREDIBLY comfortable, organic, AND flame resistant.

Matt
Matt
3 years 10 months ago

equal time between boxer-briefs and just boxers. Gave up the tighty whities in college. They just felt embarrassing to wear.

jake
jake
3 years 10 months ago

it took you til college to realize tighty whities weren’t cool…?

Ailo
Ailo
3 years 10 months ago

My father’s 93, a boxer fan all his life, he’s hanging down around his knees. I think you got to mix it up, if you hearing “Born Free” when you wake up go Commando! I’m just sayin……..

tcady
tcady
3 years 10 months ago

“Fill your cup”… Really Mark??? LOL

JoanieL
JoanieL
3 years 10 months ago

That was my thought also. LOL

D. M. Mitchell
3 years 10 months ago

After my third child was born (and I always wore tighty whities then) I had a vasectomy (so long ago the doctor used a stone knife). So the sperm issue became a non-issue and my wife and I had a lot more spontaneous fun. Then, in my 30’s I went commando, in my 40’s, boxers, and in my late 50’s I switched to boxer briefs, which suit me just fine.

D. M. Mitchell
3 years 10 months ago

Forgot to mention: When my children were born I was living in Arizona (Mesa, Phoenix area) and working outside doing construction work in the sometimes incredible heat. So I know my boys got really hot most summer days.

Groktimus Primal
3 years 10 months ago

I recommend getting a vasectomy and not worrying about it.

Meghan
Meghan
3 years 10 months ago

+1 🙂

Kristina
Kristina
3 years 10 months ago
We live in Florida, and my fiance used to love his boxer briefs. Loved the support, he said. They got so worn out that I bought him a new pack about a year and a half ago, but the same size was so incredibly tight and uncomfortable (evidently the old ones were REALLY worn out) that he started letting it all hang free. He says it’s much, much cooler during the summer now, far fewer incidents of sweaty man parts. Never having had sweaty man parts myself, I can only assume it isn’t pleasant. Here’s to being naked under our… Read more »
Morghan
Morghan
3 years 10 months ago

One word: Kilt!

Revo Luzione
Revo Luzione
3 years 10 months ago

This confirms my choice to go commando about 70% of the time. And yes, I gotta hook up a kilt soon.

chocolatechip69
chocolatechip69
3 years 10 months ago

Fascinating topic:)

HopelessDreamer
HopelessDreamer
3 years 10 months ago

“I was alive during the seventies, and I can certainly vouch for the friction that occurs between bare skin and polyester.”

L – O – L!

Animanarchy
Animanarchy
3 years 10 months ago

Yet another use for butter and oils.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 10 months ago

Rectum? Damn near killed’em!

Donna
Donna
3 years 10 months ago

I live for your hilarious, witty comments!

john
john
3 years 10 months ago


“What’s worn under the kilt?”
“Nothing, ma’am, it’s all in perfect working order.””

If you wear anything under it, it is a skirt

Peacemaker
Peacemaker
3 years 10 months ago

I wear robes, you know like hefty robes that Greek scholars or Shogun use to wear. Amazing!

Tom
3 years 10 months ago

Aren’t socks almost universally worn under the kilt?

Kevin
Kevin
3 years 10 months ago

I wear lipstick under mine

Bill C
Bill C
3 years 10 months ago

Traditionally? No. The English decided to tell the Scots what Scottish fashion and heritage was a couple centuries ago (in an attempt to make them more loyal or something). Prior to that all Scots were barefoot at all times, including winter, and including even the highest nobles.

Joanne
Joanne
3 years 10 months ago

“What’s worn under the kilt?”

“Boots.”

🙂

Ben Hirshberg
3 years 10 months ago

Boxers are the most comfortable imho. Gotta love the levity of MDA haha

Primal Toad
3 years 10 months ago

Yes!

DB
DB
3 years 10 months ago

I just want to see the thermometer they used.

Chris
Chris
3 years 10 months ago

I wear boxer-briefs.

Aria
Aria
3 years 10 months ago

Do your balls hang low, do they waggle too and fro~

Sorry, couldn’t resist. XD

John
John
3 years 10 months ago

Can you tie ’em in a knot?
Can you tie ’em in a bow?

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 10 months ago

Can you throw them over your shoulder?

Tom
3 years 10 months ago

Like a continental soldier?

Jeff
Jeff
3 years 10 months ago

Would you like them
in a house?
Would you like them
with a mouse?

Say!
In the dark?
Here in the dark!
Would you, could you, in the dark?

Would you, could you,
in the rain?

Could you, would you,
with a goat? Er, forget that.

Would you? Could you?
in a car?
Eat them! Eat them!
Here they are!

Randal L. Schwartz
3 years 10 months ago

I’m a big fan of ScottEVest “Travel Boxers 2.0”, with not one, but *two* pockets in them, and a button to close the fly for those modest times, and dry-fast fabric to wash in the sink while you’re on the road a lot (like me).

Susan Alexander
3 years 10 months ago

I love men’s boxers (for me) for sleeping.

I have a stack of 2(x)its brand, size small, plain white. So soft. They’re perfect with a long sleeved white tee shirt (I have a stack of those too, from places I’ve traveled).

The perfect jammies. 🙂

Art Vandele
Art Vandele
3 years 10 months ago

Now my boxer briefs are feeling a bit more snug.

faywray
faywray
3 years 10 months ago

Way to be a creep, dude. How can you think for just one second this is appropriate behavior?

Susan Alexander
3 years 10 months ago

Typo – it’s 2(x)ist, not 2(x)its.

Sarah A.
Sarah A.
3 years 10 months ago

I was a young teen in the 90’s when it was fashionable for females to wear men’s boxers under their overalls, and even jeans. I remember not liking to go with that trend too often becuase it was really uncomfortable having all that extra fabric from ther boxers. I’m not sure how that’s comfortable for you men. I am not male, but enjoy going commando a lot of the time. It just feels most natural, even as a woman.

W.J. Purifoy
W.J. Purifoy
3 years 10 months ago

amen.

M.
M.
3 years 10 months ago

I think this is my favorite article — and comments section — yet XD

W.J. Purifoy
W.J. Purifoy
3 years 10 months ago

amen, again.

Peacemaker
Peacemaker
3 years 10 months ago

Well, I’m good my clothes(At home!) Are robes, yes, many robes, and sometimes a loin cloth, or quality boxers. Very, very comfortable. Warning: Do not go commando while wearing jeans! You can guess why.

Chris
3 years 10 months ago

I was going to say, the one downside to commando are zippers.

Anon
3 years 10 months ago

I would be more concerned about the risk of strangulated testicle from tight underclothes.
http://fashion.telegraph.co.uk/news-features/TMG9393537/Fashion-for-tight-jeans-is-increasing-testicular-problems-among-men.html
This happened to friend of mine at school and is probably the most painful injury that can befall a man.

bubbajank
bubbajank
3 years 10 months ago

Sorry, can’t wear boxers because I get hard easily, even when the wind blows…

But I’m thinking about putting in shoe eyelets in my undies!

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[…] Boxers or Briefs, Mark’s Daily Apple […]

Maninthebox22
Maninthebox22
3 years 10 months ago

wow I swear I was just thinking about searching this topic on MDA today. recently I switched to briefs for comfort and flexibility during workouts. I don’t really like em the rest of the time though.

Paleo Bon Rurgundy
3 years 10 months ago

Exercise = Boxer briefs. Best of both worlds.

mars
mars
3 years 10 months ago

Tomorrow on MDA: thongs vs bikinis!

my primal hubby has been going commando since we started dating 23 years ago.. our 5-year old son refuses to wear underwear too.. like father, like son

Oly
Oly
3 years 10 months ago

Lightweight cotton or something moisture wicking for the underwear — and try looser fitting pants instead of all the silly skinny jeans styles.
Tropical weight wool trousers for hot weather instead of blue jeans. Wool can be incredibly fine and much better for temperature control.

And I like the switching-it-up ideas. Briefs for activity, boxers to sleep.

Derek
Derek
3 years 10 months ago

Obesity inhibits cooling in the pampiniform plexus (testes radiators), and thus inhibits testosterone production AND sperm motility. Tight undies do the same thing.

trackback
3 years 10 months ago

[…] Health and wellness, after all, come down to far more than just diet and exercise (and sleep […] Mark’s Daily Apple Related Posts:What About Type 1 Diabetes?Dear Mark: Ornish Strikes Again, Vitamin D from Light […]

W.J. Purifoy
W.J. Purifoy
3 years 10 months ago

Wow! I’ve laughed out loud at several points on today’s topic. Thanks everyone!

I’m also reminded of an episode of Friends (Season 3) where Phoebe’s new boyfriend wears shorts all the time . . . and goes commando under them.

Sari
Sari
3 years 10 months ago

“This is a family place, mister. Keep the mouse in the house.”

Saara
3 years 10 months ago

Whoa there, boys! Did someone just come up with non-hormonal and non-invasive male birth control … underwear? Yay!!

andre Chimene
3 years 10 months ago

Congrats Mark on having the balls to tackle this hot topic. I was inspired by the comments of women wearing men’s underwear to bed, so tonight I am going to try some of my wife’s. Hum, panties, thong or crotchless? I am feeling free.

Chance Bunger
Chance Bunger
3 years 10 months ago

I am so going to go around all day looking for opportunities to use the phrase “scrotal drooping”

Joe Carbup
Joe Carbup
3 years 10 months ago

I’ve worn tight-fitting briefs all my life. When it came time for us to have children, the first of which came when I was 37, all I pretty much had to do was sneeze next to my wife when she was ovulating and she got pregnant, first try.

Did this issue of infertility come about with tight briefs? Heck no. It came about with the increasing use of soy in our diets, along with other estrogenic influences in our lives, not to mention the complete chemicallization of our lives.

Kathy
Kathy
3 years 10 months ago

A lady at a church meeting was asking me for details on my Primal weight loss. We were interrupted before I could give her the marksdailyapple web address. This would have been the first entry that she read! She’s over 60 and very prim and proper. Imagining her response is almost as funny as that Seinfeld clip.

Nathan
Nathan
3 years 10 months ago

I wear athletic polyester compression shorts. I got this from when I used to go hiking a lot. Cotton soaks up water and doesn’t dry or breathe as well as polyester.

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