LAS VEGAS—The tech world is descending on Sin City this week for the sprawling annual Consumer Electronics Show—er, I mean CES—and on Sunday, the media got its first look at this year’s array of gadgets, doodads, and probably needless stocking stuffers, which their creators hope are coming to a future near you.
At the CES Unveiled event, where exhibitors from large and small companies alike lined up to display their latest and greatest, a “high-tech” men’s underwear startup called Spartan stood out from the rest. These aren’t your usual Fruit of the Loom basics, nor could you call them “smart” boxers. There’s no chip in the crotch, and they don’t connect to your smartphone. (Phew.)
The idea with Spartan, according to the dudes wearing the boxers at the booth, is to protect men’s genitals from the harm supposedly caused by wireless radiation, whether emanating from the smartphone in your pocket or the laptop on your lap. The boxers have silver woven into the material, which the company says makes an “electromagnetic shield that blocks radiation from entering the boxer.” It’s like a Faraday cage, but for men’s crotches.
The problem Spartan boxers are aiming to solve isn’t actually made up, even if it does seem like a kind of ridiculous solution. According to a 2014 study from the Central European Journal of Urology, exposure to cellphone radiation can significantly reduce the mobility of semen. “For men readying themselves for fatherhood, especially when registered fertility problems exist, it would be better to avoid holding a mobile phone in a trouser pocket for long periods of time,” the study concludes.
At CES on Sunday, the small Spartan booth definitely drew a crowd, perhaps drawn in by the rare sight of men in underwear as opposed to scantily clad women, a typical feature of tech trade shows. After waiting my turn to talk to the exhibitors—who, again, were not wearing pants over their boxers—I learned that these privates-protecting undergarments actually have a market. More than 30,000 Spartan boxers have sold in the past year, according to the company. Others inquiring at the booth wanted to know if they were actually comfortable, which the exhibitors, of course, claimed they were. (And hey, if they managed to wear them for an entire trade-show event, who am I to argue?) I asked if they knew if cellphone radiation has any negative effects on women’s reproductive health—after all, Spartan doesn’t sell any products for women—to which an exhibitor replied that he’s not sure because there hasn’t been much study of that topic. An honest, if disappointing, answer.
The Spartan underwear is both an atypical CES find, in that it contains no electronic parts, and a very typical one, in that it was made with men in mind. You might not necessarily say the latter about the next item I encountered—a smart mirror. When I gazed in it, the device quickly told me I had dark circles under my eyes and some redness in my complexion—a beauty problem to the makers of the HiMirror, apparently, or maybe just a reasonable sign of exhaustion if you were among the horde of journalists who had just stepped off planes.
Clearly, a lot of the tech we’ll see this week at CES will be for men—even when it’s marketed to women.