How Do You Gird Your Loins?

Just over a week ago, while having dinner with Ashlee, Oliver, and Alex at Pizza Delight in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, our conversation led to an interesting topic that clearly demanded scientific inquiry.

For whatever reason, our conversation turned to the topic of long underwear. More specifically, whether or not one wears underwear with long underwear. Around the table the decision was split perfectly along the gender line1. The women at the table insisted that underwear were absolutely required2, while the men could find no reason for the need to double-gird our loins3. Both sides had seemingly good reasons for their staunch beliefs on the matter, and neither side seemed willing to budge.

After much discussion, we felt the need to broaden our understanding of the phenomenon to determine if the apparent gender line was valid. As such, we set up an online Twitter poll (where respondents were anonymous to us), as well as a Facebook post (where respondents were known to us) to track user responses to the following question:

  • Do you wear underwear with your long johns?

We also texted friends and family to gauge their responses. We provided the following answers, allowing respondents to select one option only:

  • Yes (male)
  • Yes (female)
  • No (male)
  • No (female)

Since this was a pilot study we ignored the possibility of multiple answers (although we learned after the fact that some respondents chose to wear underwear with their long johns in certain situations but not others). Tweeted mentions, retweets, and direct messages were not included in the quantitative analysis unless they explicitly indicated they were not part of the formal poll.

Screen Shot 2016-02-27 at 11.48.26 AM
Figure 1: A summary of responses to the question “Do you wear underwear with long johns?” based on a gender binary.

We allowed Facebook and text respondents to provide unverified responses for significant others, or family members. We ignored respondents who simply liked the Facebook query, as there was insufficient information to effectively determine their response to the question. We also failed to allow for the responses I don’t wear long underwear and I don’t wear underwear4. Where available, Facebook comments, Twitter mentions and direct messages, and text messages from respondents were recorded and qualitatively reviewed. Finally, we opted to ignore the fact that our respondents were likely not statistically representative, and definitely not randomly sampled from the general population.

A total of 82 responses were recorded, split between the genders almost equally (51% male, 49% female – see Figure 1). We found no difference in findings based on the medium by which responses were collected (i.e. Twitter, Facebook, text message). The full results are presented in the following table, and were analyzed using the R statistical software and specifically the prop.test function.

Male Female Total
Yes 19 40 59
No 23 0 19
Total 42 40 82

Interestingly, all female respondents (100%) indicated they opted to wear underwear with their long underwear. At times their responses were emphatic (e.g. Hells yes). Men were split between yes (45%) and no (55%) camps. The proportion of men in the yes camp was found not to be statistically significantly different from the proportion in the no camp (p.value 0.43 for a simple two-sided null hypothesis test of proportional differences at the 95% confidence level). Reasons provided by men in the yes camp fell into two primary categories: warmth, and hygiene, although protection of the family jewels was also mentioned. Men in the no camp often indicated that long underwear are underwear, so double-girding was redundant and illogical.

Ignoring gender, 72% of respondents indicated they wore underwear under their long johns. That is, roughly 3/4 of respondents identified themselves as double loin-girders. It is unknown if this is due to social training, or some other underlying cause. Further, the implications of these findings are presently unknown. One respondent suggested that it was environmentally unsound to create excess laundry by wearing both underwear and long underwear together, and recommended that each be worn independently and at least four times (frontwards, backwards, inside, and out).

While the results are extremely interesting, we did not explore reasons for the gender differences as part of the initial pilot. And as with all good research, we are left with more questions than when we first began. Specifically,

  • What reasons seemingly lead women to adopt an underwear always policy? Is it a function of biology? Is it a function of social training? Does this carry through to other populations of women who wear long underwear? Are there circumstances in which women would change their behaviour patterns?
  • Why are men split 50/50 between yes and no camps? Are men in one group similar in other ways? Do males who wear underwear with their long johns do so because they’ve been socialized by their mothers who do the same? And if this is the case, why are women and men who wear underwear with long johns not affected similarly by paternal influences who opt not to wear underwear? Do men who only wear long johns do so as an act of rebellion against their underwear wearing acculturation during key points in their development, or is it motivated by a biological necessity to keep their junk cool for procreation purposes? Can factors be identified that will allow us to predict underwear and long john usage in men?
  • Are the gender differences consistent within familial units?
  • Do the patterns observed hold if we expand our gender binary to a spectrum of gender identities? How might they change if we expand our answers to include options of I do not wear underwear and I do not wear long underwear or if we permit a more nuanced or conditional response, such as I wear long underwear with underwear in these situations, but not others?
  • Does the material and style of the long johns influence the choice to wear underwear?
  • Is their a social shaming element that guides decision-making in the underwear or no underwear debate, or is it a function of laundry?
  • Why did we find these results so remarkable, and why have we never considered the alternatives in the great underwear/no underwear debate? Is this a function of our own socialization, and if so, is this a larger trend in society?

The demand for this knowledge is growing, as demonstrated by the number of Likes on Facebook, retweets, and mentions on Twitter, and with at least one respondent asking Can someone get a PhD researching this?! Clearly there is much work yet to be completed in this very rich domain.

1 Here we’ve assumed a gender binary for our pilot study. Clearly a better version of the study would allow for a spectrum of gender identity. We’re currently reviewing granting opportunities that would allow us to expand and improve this research.

2 The very idea of not wearing underwear being extremely distasteful and disgusting.

3 Long underwear are underwear. Why does one need under-underwear?

4 I may or may not know way more information than I cared to about some of my friends now5.

5 The burden of being a researcher, I guess?

Photo credit: Alec MacKinnon

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