Manspread Explained

Sitting for Men

For years I blithely taught sitting lessons to men and women as if their pelvises were identical. My main message: the pelvis needs to be upright to insure a neutral curve in the lumbar spine. This curve is the most secure configuration of the lumbar vertebrae. Simplest way to attain it: sit on your thighs, not on your buttocks. With the pelvis rolled back, the weight of the torso rests onto the tailbone, flattening the lumbar area and making it less stable.

My male students in classes at the Rolf Institute never complained when I taught them to sit on their thighs. They were beginning students and perhaps I was intimidating. (Me? Really?) Yet nobody ever pointed out the truth: “this ideal posture pinches my package.” 

After years of teaching and writing about "supported sitting," a friend pointed out the obvious. To roll forward onto an upright pelvis often requires a manual adjustment men would rather not make in public. He told me about friction between the fabric of jeans, an undergarment, and the skin of the scrotum. Especially when the weather is warm, these layers adhere to one another like layers of fascia in a body that doesn’t move much.


This must be why so many men sit rolled back with their thighs wide apart. Maybe this so-called “manspread” isn’t the expression of males taking up more than their share of social space.  Maybe manspreading is a way to avoid the chafing, pinching and poor ventilation caused by modern trousers.  If you’ve ever experienced the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia, you’ll understand why men in those cultures wear sarongs.


In a conversation with another male friend I learned that underwear selection that supports the penis and scrotum in a more forward direction can help men sit upright with their thighs angled forward rather than out. Men who are accustomed to looser fitting boxers will have a harder time adjusting to upright sitting because their penis and scrotum will be resting farther back. We went on to consider the specialized jock strap worn by male ballet dancers to hold the genitals snugly against the lower abdomen area. Without this “dance strap” they’d never be able to perform the move illustrated in the photo.

Why do men wear pants?

Our conversation sent me to the internet to learn the origin of pants. The oldest known trousers were found in China and date to around 1200 BCE.  Most likely they were made for horseback riding—the domestication of horses dates to the same era. Greek artwork portraying trousers dates to the 6th century BCE. The Romans with their the tunics and cloaks regarded the wearing of trousers as barbaric. How times change!

Modern commutes no longer involve sitting astride beasts, so perhaps men’s barbaric attire is ready for a change. There have already been a few steps in this direction. “Sagging,” the wearing of jeans so low on the hips that underwear shows was popularized by skateboarders and hip-hop artists in the 1990s. A symbol of rebellion, it’s likely this style originated in prisons where belts are prohibited. More recently there’s been a trend toward men’s harem pants, a bit more likely to enter mainstream fashion than sagging.

With the likelihood of steady rise in global temperatures, perhaps we’ll see sarongs become the next revolution in men’s fashion.  A “benefit” of climate change could be the downfall of manspread.