A recent study examining 656 men aged 18-56 concluded that men who wear boxer shorts benefit from a higher sperm count than those who opt for tight-fitting varieties of underwear, such as briefs and jockeys. According to the researchers, 53% of participants who had mostly worn boxer shorts boasted a 17% higher sperm count than those who avoided wearing boxers.
Although this study represents the largest of its kind, it has only confirmed a long held belief amongst fertility doctors that men with poor sperm quality could potentially improve their semen quality by wearing looser underwear. The ideal temperature for sperm development is 29-35°C, which is why testicles are positioned outside of the body. If the temperature inside the testicles rises to above 36°C, which it does when the scrotum is raised closer to the body by wearing tight jeans and tight underwear, sperm production and quality can be significantly affected.
Men attending the fertility clinic frequently ask me how they can improve their sperm quality. One of the first things I advise them is: keep your testicles as cool as possible. Apart from wearing loose underwear, you should also avoid frequent very hot baths, heated car seats, keeping a laptop on your lap while working and so on. But it is not only increased scrotal temperature that can effect sperm quality. One key reason for the historic trend of continually reduced male fertility is poor diet. Too few vitamins and the toxins in the many processed foods can affect sperm; therefore eating a varied diet consisting of lots of unprocessed foods can be beneficial.
Getting good quality sleep is also important. Male sexual hormone production peaks during the REM dream phase so to maximise its production it is important to get lots of high quality sleep, ideally several hours or more. In addition, research has shown that high intensity exercise increases male sexual hormone production, particularly when large muscle groups are activated, so plenty of sleep, but also plenty of exercise can improve male fertility. Not smoking and minimising alcohol consumption are other positive steps, whilst another question I’m often asked regards taking supplements. There is no harm in maximising antioxidant intake such as vitamins B, C, D, E and A, Folic Acid and Zinc by eating power foods and supplements.
The sperm production cycle, called Spermatogenisis, takes about 3 months so any lifestyle changes will need to followed consistently for at least 3 months before any visible effects can be seen. Any positive effects can be detected by having a sperm test. Men will be asked to produce a sperm sample for analysis at the clinic, ideally after abstaining from sex for 3-5 days before the sample is collected. It will then be examined for volume, sperm count ,motility and morphology and also the presence of any anti-sperm antibodies. Other tests which may be requested are a physical examination, STD testing, genetic testing, blood tests to assess hormone levels, vasography (x-ray to check for obstruction), ultrasound or testicular biopsy.
Best advice: If you’re trying for a baby, or planning to conceive in the future, start wearing looser underwear now. Preparation is key.