Men, Your Tighty-Whities Could Be Damaging Your Fertility

Boxers or briefs? The ever-polarizing debate may finally have a winner, thanks to a new study from researchers at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, which found that men who wear boxers may have higher sperm counts than those who wear briefs.

A new study found that sperm prefers looser underwear. (Image: Marc Ebenwaldner / EyeEm/EyeEm/GettyImages)

For this study, which is the largest of its kind to investigate the link between underwear style and semen quality, researchers collected information and samples from 656 men between the ages of 32 and 39 who were part of couples seeking assistance from a fertility clinic. The men filled out surveys asking what kinds of underwear they wore in the past three months: boxers, jockeys, bikinis, briefs or other.

Fifty-three percent of the participants reported wearing boxers over tighty-whities. The interesting part? Researchers found that those in the boxers camp had 23 percent higher sperm concentrations in their semen and 17 percent higher total sperm counts compared to men who wore more fitted underwear.

What's more, the men who donned boxers also had higher percentages of motile sperm — those swimmers that are skillful enough to make it through the female reproductive system and fertilize an egg. The most substantial differences were between guys who wore boxers and those who wore jockeys and briefs.

Though previous studies have found that high temperatures can impact sperm concentration and quality, research on the effects of different styles of underwear have so far been inconsistent, according to the authors of the study, which was published earlier this week in the journal Human Reproduction.

"The demand of infertility treatments during the last years have been increasing, since infertility rates have been increasing as well," Dr. Lidia Minguez-Alarcon, lead author of the study and research scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School, told LIVESTRONG.COM. "These results could be used to improve the sperm counts of men, since type of underwear worn is a modifiable lifestyle."

But if having children falls somewhere between winning a round of Fortnite and deleting your Tinder account on your current list of priorities and you're a firm believer in jockeys, briefs and other tighter-fitting undies, don't overhaul your skivvies drawer just yet.

"The reality is that infertility is very rare in the general population. So I wouldn't just have all guys out there change their habits when it comes to underwear because of a small percentage that could benefit from it," Dr. Jamin Brahmbhatt, Orlando-based urologist and male fertility expert, says. "So unless you're screened into the whole process, I would just say continue doing what makes you comfortable."

Basically, these findings are primarily useful for couples who are already working with fertility experts to get pregnant. And even then, changing the type of underwear you wear would be an extra step on top of other modifiable behaviors that have a greater impact on fertility — such as smoking, heavy drinking and poor diet.

If you decide you do want to test the effectiveness of this boxers-are-best theory, Dr. Minguez-Alarcon recommends slipping them on three months before you start trying to conceive because spermatogenesis, or sperm production, takes about that long. Otherwise, your gonads will likely be just fine in a pair of tighty-whities.

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