Men are gross.

This is hardly news to anybody who’s ever met one, lived with one, or been one. We’re hairy. We spit. Our sweat smells like a pile of dead tree frogs in a humid swamp. When a hidden body part itches, we scratch and scratch until both it and our hands share most of the same molecules. We think nothing of rubbing the bellies of strange dogs, and we shovel food into our mouths like starving refugees, sometimes while rubbing the bellies of strange dogs. We’re dispensaries for various greenhouse gases.

Yet these sins would have a slim chance of being forgiven, if only we could figure out a way of improving the underwear situation. Given enough time, a man’s undergarments are a microcosm for everything funky and off-putting about the human species, a case study in why we wear clothes in the first place. If you come across a man’s underwear and it isn’t the most frightening thing you’ve ever encountered, then either the underwear is brand new, or the man wearing it is a department store mannequin.

I say all this, naturally, from a man’s perspective, and with a blind eye toward the travails of a woman’s own underthings. Were a woman to hover over my keyboard at this very moment, she might whisper, “But Jeff, our garments are also subject to funkification.” And that may be true. Thing is, men don’t care. When we encounter a woman’s undergarments, they’re either thrown into the general mass of laundry, or else it’s showtime at the Apollo and our minds are preoccupied. In this situation, women’s wear could be coated with the grass-clumped road grime from a trucker’s mud flaps and we wouldn’t notice.

Boxers, briefs, jock straps; it doesn’t matter. With enough time and use, they’re all abominations.

In part, this is due to a general difference in the sexes’ overall clothing philosophy. A woman’s take is sensible, sane: When an article of clothing shows signs of aging or distress, it is discarded or relegated to the bench, only to be used when pinch-hitting in an emergency situation.

A man’s philosophy is strictly functional and pragmatic: I have paid money for this item, and I will wear it until it absolutely disintegrates.

Oh, and we do. At the end of its life, a man’s underwear looks like a shredded flag on a war-torn battlefield. Gather a big enough pile and it could eat through the hull of a submarine.

A clue as to why our not-so-frilly underthings are so offensive can be found in a commercial that aired recently during a late-night TV program. The spot begins with a graphical depiction of a pair of briefs, with a bright pink spot glowing on the crotch, which in ad-speak has become the universal symbol for absorbancy. Then the camera pans away from the graphic and sweeps over a burly manly-man walking toward the screen, clad in the kind of plaid workshirt that screams, “I have handled tools and machinery. My testosterone levels are high enough to paralyze a sea urchin.”

Manly Guy stops in the center of the frame, and in a booming baritone that could blow the hubcaps off a Jaguar, he asks his audience, “Do you suffer from drippage?”

Three seconds in, and I knew this was my favorite commercial of all time.

For the ad’s duration, Manly Guy employs his grit and swagger to extoll the virtues of this revolutionary new underwear, geared toward men whose natural functions sometimes have a mind of their own. The man’s overwhelming guyness is clearly an overcompensation for the embarrassing nature of a sensitive condition, which ads a sad poignancy to the spot’s inherent ridiculousness. It’s comedy and tragedy compressed into 30 seconds of air time. I laughed. I cried. Ironically, I nearly wet myself.

Now, to be clear, there’s nothing funny about incontinence. It’s a serious ailment, with demoralizing psychological consequences for its sufferers. But the ad made clear that the underwear wasn’t intended for incontinents; there are different products for that. No, this telling invention is supposedly geared toward those whose functions occasionally misbehave, dabbling (pun intended) in the biological equivalent of a misdemeanor, a lapse in the accepted protocol. Are there people who could legitimately benefit from this? No doubt. If I know men, though ”“ and I do ”“ then I can almost guarantee that a majority of the customer base will be guys who just aren’t careful enough, bypassing the requisite three shakes at the urinal so they can get the hell out of Dodge. Men do this for two reasons: Either they’re sloppy, or the dude standing next to them is making weird grunting sounds and smells like a dead whale covered in cigarettes.

Yeah, that happens.

The call of nature isn’t the sole reason why men’s underwear tends to become so objectionable. It probably isn’t the most common. What I think it boils down to is something more fundamental in the male biology ”“ an odorous and cotton-ravaging byproduct of our utilitarian bodies. We create it by the very act of moving, of being. That’s why well-worn undershirts and baseball caps tend to not do so hot, either: They’ve been exposed to that uniquely male aura of meat- and beer-fueled funk. We move, we sweat, we stink up the joint. That, in addition to belching our way through SportsCenter, is kind of our thing.

So if you see a pair of men’s underwear lying on the bathroom floor, carelessly tossed toward the laundry hamper and missed, there’s a good chance the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could declare your home a Level 5 biohazard. Remain calm and back slowly toward an exit. And remember: Men are gross. We simply can’t help ourselves.

— Jeff Lagasse is a staff writer and columnist for the Journal Tribune, and is also a man (of sorts), which means his body chemistry is not to be trusted. He can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 319 or [email protected]