Boxing clever - what’s the best underwear for men?
Are you a closet Y-front wearer, or do you prefer baggy boxer shorts? Most men choose underwear that feels comfortable, or looks good. But is this all we should worry about? Could some pants actually be better for us than others?
The new Calvin Klein tight boxer shorts sparked a mini-revolution in men's underwear and added a fourth category to Y-fronts, briefs and boxers. Now, companies are falling over themselves to market men's underwear, and in October Marks & Spencer announced a new range called, manfully, Urban Survival.
Despite everyone's best efforts though, men seem to stick with what they know. One recent survey said that 57 per cent of men wear briefs or Y-fronts, with just 14 per cent going for the infinitely more fashionable tight boxers and the remaining 29 per cent sporting loose boxers.
That figure could quickly change, however, if men were aware that briefs could in fact be overheating their testicles and making them infertile.
Although briefs offer good comfort and support, making them ideal for sports or long periods sitting down, they may also restrict blood supply to the genitals while at the same time heating them up. Director of the WellMan Clinic in London, Dr Richard Petty, says this could "greatly curtail virility" in men.
In fact, Dr Petty decries most modern underwear, calling the latest high-tech briefs "go-faster micro knickers". The Y-front, believe it or not, only became popular in the 1930s. Before then, men didn't wear pants and simply tucked shirts between their legs, says Dr Petty. Long johns were only worn to protect outer clothing from sweat.
The first group to question what underwear men ought to wear was the US military in 1940 - they came up with the classic boxer.
A load of hot air
Boxers have the advantage of keeping the genital area cool. "There needs to be plenty of air around the vital parts for healthy sperm and testosterone production, and testicles must be allowed to hang freely," Dr Petty said.
And some materials are better than others. Cotton or silk are preferable to man-made fibres, allowing natural ventilation.
A decade ago, an Egyptian researcher looking at male contraception found that men could be made temporarily sterile if they wore special polyester underwear that put pressure on the testicles.
The underwear also raised the temperature of the testes by just a few degrees so that sperm were made infertile and, after four months of wearing the pants, the men involved were firing blanks. Five months after switching back to normal underwear, fertility returned.
Ants in your pants
On top of this, tight pants can produce the moist, warm atmosphere that fungi just love. Most women know about the risks of thrush, but that same yeast infection can also affect men. A range of other fungal infections can result in intense itching and burning, and even peeling on the inner thighs, pubic area and scrotum.
If men fail to wash properly and then wear tight-fitting artificial-fibre underwear, they also risk getting abscesses. A moist environment is a great breeding ground for micro-organisms and tight briefs may prevent existing infections such as a sexually transmitted disease from clearing up quickly.
Keep your options open
So are loose boxers the answer? Well, not necessarily. Baggy underwear provides little support for your genitals and so might be uncomfortable in everyday situations, especially if playing sport. And although briefs do have associated problems, if they're made of breathable fibres and men maintain a decent personal hygiene regime, the risks of infection are small.
So briefs are OK, as long as you don't wear them all the time. Sleeping in a pair of loose boxers instead should allow enough air to reach the genitals and greatly reduce the risks of infertility.
Some pants now have special breathable meshes, but most men seem to be more interested in what their underwear looks like on. Therefore stores such as Marks & Spencer tend to market men's underwear in much the same way as they sell lingerie for women.
These days you can buy men's underwear with special "front panels that guarantee enhanced shape". In the US, you can even buy pants that are padded to "give you a butt not just a bump".
Like the Wonderbra and its many variations, the issue of healthy men's pants will probably be superseded by more cosmetic considerations. The answer to best underwear practice seems to be like most things with health - everything in moderation.
The WellMan Clinic