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Men’s underwear choice could affect sperm count

A new study makes a case for what kind of innerwear would be good for a man’s fertility and why when making the choice one should consider much more than the aesthetics

When asked which underwear they would prefer between boxers, briefs, boxer-briefs or trunks, men will often argue that it is all about personal style and comfort. Those who own a pair of briefs will say they are your standard go-to underwear and are perfect for men who prefer to keep everything in one place. Then there are men that love loose fitting underwear, boxers or trunks, because of their breathability.

James Ochola, a taxi driver, says he loves boxer briefs because they hold the package in one place and are fashionable. Philip Kamau on the other hand does not have a preference for one particular type of underwear. “I have stocked up an assortment of underwear, the boxer briefs to work, brief  to the gym and boxers for other occasions,” he says.

However, as it turns out, when it comes to fertility issues, new research has suggested that men should put into consideration more than just whether their undies look cute or comfortable. And one option takes the cup home for the perfect temperature for optimum sperm count.

The study was conducted by scientists from Harvard University and published on the Oxford University Press academic website found that of the 650 male partners of couples seeking infertility treatment at a fertility centre between 2,000 and 2017, men who wore boxers had higher sperm concentration and total count than men who wore briefs. Semen samples were collected and analysed to look for differences in sperm concentration, sperm count, motility and sperm morphology. 

Men who reported wearing boxers more frequently had a higher sperm concentration, higher sperm count and higher motile count, according to the study.

Men in the study were between 18 and 56 years old. Each provided a semen and blood sample and answered a questionnaire that asked about the type of underwear they most often wore during the preceding three months. Among them, 53 per cent wore boxer shorts. The rest wore tighter underwear.

This is great news for men who love catching a breeze and not so good news for men who like to keep things snug and tight.

Dr Geoffrey Mutio of Ngara Medical Complex agrees with the study, “The reason behind this finding is simple. It is about the location of the scrotum. Briefs and boxer briefs, due to their snug fabric on the legs provides a more supportive fit and push the balls snugly against the body. Boxers, on the other hand, are less supportive and let the balls hang freely and farther away from the body,” he says.  In a nutshell, he notes that tight underwear keep the temperature of the testicles a few degrees warmer than boxer shorts.

But a few degrees may seem not to be such a big deal, it can cause real damage in terms of fertility. Mutio says the male scrotum is designed to regulate the heat of the testicles inside. When there are low temperatures, the scrotum retracts and pulls the testes up against his body to keep warm, and pulls out when it gets a little warm. The ultimate goal is to keep them one to two degrees cooler than the body, which is roughly 35.5 degrees celsius. Although the study exhausted factors possibly affecting the men’s fertility, it had some limitations. It didn’t find a causal link between the type of underwear a man wears such as the type of trousers worn, textile fabric of the underwear and fertility. It only showed correlation.

Further, the study does not necessarily suggest that men should alter their clothing preferences and tendencies, because the research was conducted among men in an infertility clinic and the results may not be generalisable to men in the general population.

It also did not tell if making the switch from briefs to boxers will fix infertility.

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