Does wearing tight jeans make men infertile?

Monday, July 17, 2006
If you wear tight pants, are you on the fast track to infertility?

In 1986, a scientific study suggested wearing tight pants or underwear could lower a man's sperm count. It was around the time tight jeans were going out of fashion. And when the media got hold of the story, baggy trousers were in.

Can tight jeans really lower a man's sperm count, or is it just a rumour started by opponents of revealing trousers? It's time for an experiment and we've enlisted the help of five virile young men. Hot young group Avant Garde have volunteered to put their tackle on the line.

The Avant Garde boys, Adam, Lee, Luke, Chris and Dave, have agreed to give one sperm sample now and another after wearing tight pants for six weeks.

The man in charge of the experiment is Dr Rick Gordon, a Sydney andrologist (male reproduction expert). He knows when it comes to testes, the right temperature is paramount.

God intended your scrotum to hang in the breeze and be a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of your body, because sperm don't like heat. People implied from that that if you heated up the scrotum by wearing tight-fitting underwear or tight jeans then perhaps you would interfere with sperm production. So there was a real fad through the '70s and '80s by wearing tight clothing and then people realised that maybe that's not good for fertility," he says.

The testes are a very delicate piece of machinery. Sperm starts off as a germ cell in the seminiferous tubes, it takes six to eight weeks to move through to the epididymis, to mature and be stored, ready for the big event.

In Australia, it is estimated that male infertility affects about one in 20 men, and is the underlying reason for 40 percent of infertile couples using assisted reproduction.

When testing if a man is fertile, here's what is examined:

  • Sperm count. Men are most likely to be fertile with a count greater than 20 million sperm per milliliter.

  • Sperm movement (motility). Men are most likely to be fertile if more than 50 percent of sperm are moving.

  • Sperm shape and structure (morphology). Men are most likely to be fertile if more than 30 percent of the sperm have a normal shape and structure. Normal sperm have an oval head with a long tail. Abnormal sperm have a large, small, tapered or crooked head, or a kinky, curled or double tail.

The quality of semen can also vary at different times. For example, it can be affected by illness.

Now, the band had their sperm count checked yesterday and it's okay, and they'll give a second sample in six weeks.

Avant Garde have a hot gig, so it's the perfect excuse to buy some extra tight pants ready for our experiment.

And the latest in men's fashions? It's girls jeans! The thing about these guys (and a lot of young guys) is that they wear girl's jeans. They say it's because they fit better around the bum and are more stylish than men's jeans.

With restrictive pants firmly in place, it's time to put those testes to the test in this rather hot and sweaty experiment.

Melbourne rock band Avant Garde have been wearing restrictive pants for six weeks and have given a second sperm sample.

It's an anxious moment as Dr Ric Gordon a Sydney andrologist, calls with the results: but they can relax, their sperm count from both readings are normal.

Well, the boys can wear their tight pants forever — it's official wearing tight pants will not make you infertile, it will not make much difference to the quality of a man's sperm.

While the boys have been given the all clear, there's just one more thing to find out — just how hot does it get inside those tight pants?

We measured the temperature of the band's testes before a gig: 36.5 degrees was the result from one of the boys.

What about after a work out on stage? For two of the band members the mercury actually fell: one reading was 36.3 degrees.

That's because the testes have the ability to regulate temperature. If it's really cold, they will move up towards the body to warm up, and if it's really hot, they will move further away to cool down. It's all to do with keeping the testes at a cool 35-36 degrees — the optimum temperature for sperm production.

Now, its a huge relief to blokes world wide that modern medicine has solved this mystery, because back in the good old days, doctors had some chilling advise to keep a man's tackle fighting fit — it was suggested during the '80s and '90s that men use an ice pack.

So if tight, hot, sweaty pants don't cause infertility, what does?

"The cause of infertility in males can vary, often we don't find a reason why sperm counts are reduced but the obvious ones are certainly poisons and toxins that we're exposed to such as smoking cigarettes, social drugs but also other chemotherapy agents, infection, trauma to the testes — lots of things can upset the way the testes normally produce it's sperm," says Dr Gordon.

And if you happen to like hot baths, think again. Studies in Japan and the US suggest taking a bath at 42 degrees, three times a week, can significantly lower your sperm count.

The good news is, it's reversible. Just wait six to eight weeks and your body will make a new batch of healthy sperm.

  • Just like women, men are more fertile at some times rather than others.

  • For most males conceiving a child isn't a major issue, only five percent of Australian men have fertility problems. Doctors advise if your partner doesn't fall pregnant after a year of regular sex, you should seek medical advice.

  • Did you know that men too have a biological clock? Even though a man can stay fertile for his entire life, he still has a biological clock. A man over 45 will take five times longer to make his partner pregnant, than a man under 25. And the older the father, the more likely his sperm will contain genetic abnormalities.

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