The Secret Origin of the Jockstrap: How the Ersatz Sportswear Became Gay Lingerie

Jockstraps.

My first experience with the uncomfortably scratchy acrylic  athletic “support” gear that leave your entire ass exposed, came when I started playing soccer as a teen growing up.

The ridiculous outré sexual titillation of the apparel and having to wear them with your teammates in the locker room at 13, compounded an already fraught identity crisis that was occurring concurrently as I was becoming aware of my sexuality, coupled with the fact that I had no idea how this pouch with leg straps protected anything, and indeed precluded your dignity.

It’s something that I would think of throughout college and later, when I did come out, the jockstrap was something that was ubiquitous at gay clubs either via the strippers or the patrons themselves at places like The Cock and The Eagle in NYC.

Or as In magazine said in 2019, “Seriously. Why do gay men love jockstraps so much?…”

If you can believe it, the jockstrap was not invented to make your ass and genitals look fantastic at circuit parties. No, the advent of the jockstrap is far less sexy.

The first ever jockstrap was invented by C.F. Bennett of Sharp & Smith, a sporting goods company in Chicago, back in 1874. Bennett saw a need for a supportive pair of underwear specifically for bicycle messengers and delivery men (also known as “bike jockeys”) who, at the time, had to endure regular ball torture by bouncing over the city’s cobblestone streets. Over time, jockstraps became a massively popular (and functional) garment for physically active men. In fact, during World War I, the US Army issued a jock to every man who served.
By 1897, Bennett had patented and begun mass-producing the “Bike Jockey Strap.” Later that year, his company sold its trademarks to Russell Athletic, who sold an impressive 350 million units worldwide. Sadly, only a few years ago, the classic Bike brand jock was discontinued.

The brand’s termination didn’t come as a surprise. In the past few decades, athletes began bailing on jockstraps for protective purposes. “It just wasn’t designed for comfort,” Bob Beeten, manager of the US Olympic Training Center, told Health magazine. “It rubs, chafes, and the straps go up your butt.” Naturally, as jockstraps began to falter among athletes, fewer people were encouraged to wear them – an attitude that became more prevalent with each passing year. Eventually, as more supportive forms of athletic underwear became available starting in the ’90s, jockstraps were mostly phased out among athletes. Among gay men, however, they remain incredibly popular as a form of lingerie.

The last 30 years has seen the jockstrap, reinvented by everyone from Calvin Klein to Andrew Christian, become among the best selling, popular, and most profitable sector of the “undergarment” industry – almost exclusively marketed and bought by gay men.

For me the allure of the jockstrap was the fact that it became a highly politicized undergarment that bridged my athlete past with my queer present and underscoring that was it was also central to the first gay porn I ever saw when I was 22: Like A Horse.

The 1984 adult hit was directed by the legendary Matt Sterling who often used sports motifs in his work.In Like A Horse, Steve Hensen narrates a set of three unrelated scenes from Director Sterling, and edited by Jason Sato, and jam-packed with the hottest gay adult stars of the time, including Hensen, Brian Hawks (as Shawn McIvan), Matt Ramsey, Brad Walsh, Eric Ruff, and many others.

The hottest scene is the opening one called “The Champions” featuring Hawks, Ramsey, and Walsh in a wrestling match. But unlike many of the “sports” scenes that lead to sex in other gay adult films, the wrestling scene was on point, they played it accurately (one of the actors even has a scab on his knee from scraping it on the matt) even though everyone’s shorts eventually rip and the men, now just wearing jockstraps, segue into one of the hottest scenes in gay porn history.

You can watch Like A Horse on GayBoysTube.

A cursory search revealed that I am not the only one who’s thought about the paradoxical nature of the jockstrap. On Twitter: “I know why gay guys wear jockstraps but can anyone explain why athletes originally started wearing jockstraps? Like, is there a reason why the thing holding your junk in place has to be assless?”

And on Reddit:

Can someone please explain to me why jockstraps need to be assless if not just to provide easy access to gay guys? from r/Showerthoughts

Lest you think this is not a worthy subject of academic or historical inquiry, back in 1974 Esquire tackled the issue:  The groundwork began with a call to Dr. Calvin Nicholas, a team physician for the New York Jets and a man who says it like it is. “Now are you talking about the hard plastic cup snapped inside the pouch for protection, or just about the strap itself? There is a difference, you know, and in my day we used wooden cups if for some reason or another we happened to be a little tender.”

When I made it clear I was referring primarily to the supporters, Dr. Nicholas began thinking along my line.

“Are you crazy! Of course all the boys wear jocks, and only a fool would go out on the field without one. Why? Come to think of it, I don’t really know, except they give you support. Well, there’s always been the story that wearing a jock prevents hernias, but, at least to my knowledge, there’s not an ounce of scientific or medical proof behind the theory. To be completely honest, we don’t know exactly what functions the strap performs other than providing uplift and comfort. But tell you what, let me find out what’s been written on the subject, then you can go and read all about the jock’s medical importance, history, or whatever else you want to know about.”

I don’t know whether the results of the good doctor’s efforts astonished him or me more, but what he found, after conducting a computer search of published medical studies over the past decade, was exactly nothing.

“I just don’t understand it,” he concluded. “You know it’s curious: here we doctors tell the boys to be sure and wear a good supporter, when all the time we really don’t know why medically.”

Pictured above: a vintage jockstrap listed on eBay for $199. The description reads, “One vintage BIKE jock strap / athletic supporter.  No. 10 style. New, never worn, never washed, includes original  package, elastic is perfect!! Box shows some wear and will be shipped collapsed. Size L but fits a M well . Classic red tracer striped  waistband  ranges from 26″ relaxed to 44″ stretched. Relive your gym class days in in classic item of American nostalgia.  No reserve on this  made in USA made classic.”

Conversations with other professionals, including coaches and athletes, always ended on much the same note. All agreed that without doubt most of today’s competitive sports would simply never have developed as we know them had it not been for the jock, but few had any definite opinion on its major function. To hold up delicate parts? To prevent stress, pain, hernia, and possibly permanent damage and future sterility? Or just to keep things out of the way? Although Tim Davey, assistant trainer for the Jets, wasn’t able to offer any more answers than anyone else, he’s at least in a key position to know about the importance of jocks and, when asked, to relate the worst that can happen to a player who doesn’t take every possible precaution.

“I’ve never so much as heard of, much less seen, one of our boys go on the field not packing a jock. They all know just too well what could happen, even while wearing one. Let me give you a couple of examples. There’s been more than one case when a guy who was hit or tackled the wrong way ended up with one testicle rammed up almost to the pelvis. What has to be done? I’ll tell you. They have to go in there and find some way to get it back down. And if that doesn’t work, it has to be cut out. Another case was a fellow who had an injured testicle swell to the size of an orange. All he could think about was how this was going to affect his sex life. Well, he did about all we know to do for something like that—which is to stay in hot soak—and, fortunately, he’s still playing ball today.”

Whatever the explanations I got, you can be damn sure that ninety-nine percent of all who engage in active sports do indeed wear a jock, and some players, like pitcher Tom Seaver of the New York Mets, wouldn’t think of going on the field without the security of two straps, plus a pair of Jockey shorts, plus a cup (plastic) fitted inside the second jock.

Jockstrap Central writes: In researching this article we found two different inventors of the jock strap, the first being Parvo Nakacheker of Finland. This gentleman, apparently an athlete from Finland, claims to have done much of the pioneer work in developing the original athletic supporter and “devoted much time to the study of pure anatomy and the special demands of such an item.”

Laying claim to the first hard cup supporter is Canadian company Guelph Elastic Hosiery from Guelph, Ontario. Although founded by Joe Cartledge, it was one of his two sons, Jack who being a “jock” developed the hard cup supporter and filed a patent for it in 1927.

Interestingly, one version of the jockstrap, sold in 1900 was the Heidelberg Electric Belt, a sort of low-voltage jockstrap claiming to be a cure for impotence, kidney disorders, insomnia, and many other complaints (The mind boggles!)

According to Jockstrap: The athletic cup to be worn together with a jockstrap was developed at the beginning of the twentieth century. The Cultural Encyclopedia of Baseball credits catcher Claude Berry with introducing the cup to major league baseball in 1904. Bike jockstraps were then also available with a cup pouch. Typically the cup was inserted in an outer pouch which was opened with two snap fasteners. Later on, the pouch was moved inside the jock and therefore it was hardly visible if the jockstrap contained a cup or not.

Athletic cups were traditionally uncomfortable, typically made of hard plastic or even metal.

Now, largely abandoned by the sports industry, the baton has been handed off to The Fort Troffs and The Nasty Pigs of the world.

Their protection may be negligible, but their endurance in the bedroom speaks to a different sort of sportsmanship.