my employee keeps adjusting himself while we’re talking

A reader writes:

I have a male employee who will adjust his balls (over top of his pants) during most conversations I have with him. It’s distracting, a bit uncomfortable, and I have no idea if I should have this conversation with him or if so, how I would approach this issue in a respectful way. Does he even know he is doing it? Am I being unreasonable in pointing it out as a habit that needs to change? Is this common and I only notice with him? I’m too embarrassed to even bring this up at work to ask anyone else how they could approach it. Thank you for some practical guidance and honest feedback on if this is worth the energy to discuss.

Well, this is incredibly awkward. You shouldn’t have to tell him that regularly touching his own genitalia during a work meeting is not okay, and I’m annoyed on your behalf that you need to.

I do think you should, though, because he should not be touching his balls while talking to people at work. I mean, most people aren’t going to take issue with one quick, discreet adjustment — but this does not sound like that.

After reading your letter, I had a good solid five minutes of not being able to come up with language for you to use, but I’ve come up with three options.

You could pointedly say, “Do you need a minute to yourself?”

Or you could be more direct: “Could you do that adjusting in the bathroom?”

Or: “I would feel more comfortable if you could do that in private.” And you could follow that up with, “Assume your coworkers might feel the same way.”

It’s going to be awkward, no matter what you say! Because referring to an employee’s balls is awkward AF. But he’s the one causing the awkwardness, not you, and you should be perfectly comfortable letting him shoulder all of that burden himself.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 451 comments… read them below }

  1. Akcipitrokulo*

    I’d start with the first one – because he may not be aware, and then if he’s embarrassed and amends habit, all good!

    But if he doesn’t stop – then the awkwardness is 100% caused by him, and you don’t need to feel bad returning it to sender.

    1. Sabine the Very Mean*

      I would channel my very best Dell Griffith from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles…”You fiddle with your balls a lot! You do more ball handling in one hour than Larry Bird does in an entire game!”

      1. ItsAllFunAndGames...*

        Also applicable, from Just one of the Guys:
        Terry: Look, maybe my balls don’t itch.
        Buddy: All balls itch! It’s a fact!

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I agree. It’s absolutely inappropriate, but I, too, could not count how many times I’ve seen a dude adjust himself while talking to me/others. I’d start with the assumption that he’s doing this reflexively, not in an effort to be gross/pervy. If it later turns out that he’s intentionally behaving boorishly, then it’s time for a convo on harassment and appropriate workplace conduct.

      1. Life is good*

        You’re right, it may be a reflex. At my old job, there was a lady who would constantly, and I mean constantly, pick her undies out of her crotch while standing to talk to you. Sometimes, she would hold her file or paper in front of that area before reaching down with the other hand to adjust, but holy crap it was distracting. So hard to not look there when she was taking care of business. Others mentioned it to me in passing, but I never got up the nerve to say anything and I wasn’t her boss . I think as his manager, though, you have an obligation to the rest of the office to say something….and I don’t think there’s an unembarrassing way to say it.

      2. Melody*

        Really? I absolutely never see men doing this.Even in a casual context. I wonder if it’s a cultural/regional thing.

        1. Pandop*

          You lucky person – around here about half the college lads (I work near a college and get the bus with them) I see seem to have their hands down their pants. I want to tell them the won’t fall off if you aren’t holding on to them!

    3. I Herd the Cats*

      Yeah, go ahead and call him on it — because anyone who doesn’t realize they can grab their junk in public needs reminding.

      I’m not saying it’s a perfectly natural inclination — IT IS — but like picking your nose, maybe you need to learn some restraint until you’r in a private stall.

  2. Archie Goodwin*

    “Is this common and I only notice with him?”

    As a guy, I can tell you: No. No it is not. It is not common at all.

    At the very minimum this person is being EXTREMELY oblivious, and the options I can think of only get worse from there.

    1. KarenT*

      It’s definitely not common, but I’ve definitely noticed some men don’t seem to realize they’re doing this/how inappropriate it is in some contexts. I’ve had an issue with some men who I know socially doing this, but thankfully my direct reports have this under control!

      1. ElspethGC*

        I went to a mixed-sex sixth-form (age 16-18) a few years ago after going to a single-sex secondary school and both guys and girls had to get used to social norms that were apparently not acceptable in a mixed environment.

        For us, it was casual bra strap adjustment, adjusting or hitching up tights, and being open about the fact that we were on our periods. For the guys, almost to a man, it was…genital adjustment. Let’s just call it that. There was this one guy who I shared the majority of my classes with, and at least once a class he would openly adjust himself. Sometimes he even did it with his hand down the front of his trousers! I don’t know if he realised he was doing it, or if he thought he was sitting down and we couldn’t see.

        Those guys were sixteen-year-olds who were learning that some stuff isn’t acceptable around people that aren’t teenage boys, and they *still* apparently picked up on this more quickly than OP’s grown coworker. Yikes.

        1. EddieSherbert*

          Seriously! I was just trying to think of a female equivalent and I came up with “well, I don’t adjust my bra or fix a wedgie in front of coworkers. I also would ignore an itchy boob or crotch in front of coworkers…”

          1. Anna*

            I don’t think fixing a bra strap is anywhere near equivalent. Maybe readjusting your boobs in the bra would be the same, but moving a bra strap up your shoulder is about the same as tugging your shirt down when you stand up.

            1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Agreed. I think the equivalent would be adjusting your bra or scratching your crouch area while talking to someone.

            1. Windchime*

              Yeah, this is a thing. My son works in a grocery store and he has had people take sweaty bills out of their bra to pay for their groceries. He puts it in the till and then pointedly uses hand sanitizer. It’s gross.

              1. RJ the Newbie*

                My local grocery store actually had to post a sign this past summer stating that they would not take money if it came out of a bra in use. I just couldn’t stop laughing.

                1. Stormfeather*

                  And now I want to picture someone carrying a bra around using the shoulder straps as a sort of… purse-type shoulder strap, storing their money in it and taking it out when needed.

                2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

                  I only do this when I’m doing housework or eating or doing something else where my hands are full, and a well-meaning family member walks up to me with, “Hey, mom/daughter, here’s that cash I owe you”. I stick it in the bra and go on with whatever I was doing. But only in the privacy of my home and only around immediate family! Not going to lie though, growing up, this was something people did. But that was in the past century.

                3. Sweet Fancy Pancakes*

                  Uggghhh. I so want to post a similar sign in the library- just something about being handed a library all warm from being tucked in next to a body is so icky.

            2. Alli525*

              Hey, give us clothes with functional pockets, and maybe we’ll stop stuffing money in our unmentionables. But I would say that your example isn’t proportional to a man adjusting himself in a work meeting – usually women aren’t taking cash out of their bras AT WORK.

              1. Seacalliope*

                I’m all for “give women pockets!” but storing money in your bra is hardly excused by small or fake pockets. Make whatever changes you need in order to NOT store money in your bra. The clerk has absolutely no decision making power over clothing design and deserves a little more respect.

              2. mark132*

                I agree it’s not the same, (I said as much). But the clothes with functional pockets. That up to you. (I have several daughters and female fashion is still a “mystery” to me. Combining the uncomfortable with the unpractical and often more flimsy and expensive).

                1. whingedrinking*

                  It’s not, in fact, “up to us”. The overlap on the Venn diagram between affordable, professional and practical/comfortable is surprisingly small in women’s wear.

                2. Observer*

                  Then carry a purse!

                  I remember putting cash in my shoes – that was common when I was a kid. But that was actually for safety – you could get your purse snatched, but no one was looking in your shoe for that $10 bill. In retrospect, I realize how gross that must have been, and I’m glad to say I haven’t seen that in decades.

                  In any case, no one that I knew ever carried money in their bra. It would have been considered totally crude and self denigrating. If you were at all “put together” you just carried a purse or pocket book.

                3. mark132*


                  I am sympathetic to the difficulty women have in clothes shopping, but as I said before I have several daughters, and I’ve gone clothes shopping with them a lot. And the reason why women’s clothing often doesn’t have usable pockets often is because women very often choose clothing without usable pockets. If enough profesional women were to start buying more functional clothes the market would respond.

                  (I still remember the skinny jeans I bought one of my daughters and commented about how it’s nice they had pockets, and I got told that they actually were fake and that was the way they were supposed to be.)

                4. IndoorCat*


                  At the risk of going on too far a tangent, this depends on where you live, and also your size, and ALSO how comfortable you are wearing more masculine-style clothes.

                  With the caveat that I am slender and open to androgynous styles, I’ve had good luck doing a few things. One, every year I purchase a neutral women’s blazer that’s suitable for indoors and outdoors, which has deep enough pockets to discreetly hold a wallet in one pocket and inhaler in the other. Searching for women’s blazer with deep pockets brings up a lot in the $30-$50 range (I have this one, which I love: ) Poshmark is *great* for this. Personally I don’t mind secondhand clothes at all, although I know some people get weirded out wearing clothes that were worn before.

                  If you pick one that suits both spring and autumn, you can wear it all year. Heck, you can even get it to last for two or three years. I’ve found that jacket / blazers are really multi-functional, and you can wear them over a bright dress or a plain black top and slacks and get really different effects.

                  Second, getting men’s slacks, deep pockets and all, and then getting them tailored to fit me, works decently well. This isn’t an option for curvier people, which is frustrating, but it’s a workable solution for me.

                  Another way to integrate pockets into a feminine look if you don’t own many dresses with pockets is to take very short (mid-thigh or shorter) cargo shorts, and wear them under your skirt. Ideally, your skirt hangs just above the knee or lower, or it’s particularly ~flouncy~, which covers the shorts completely. To be fair, this is mostly something I’ve done out-and-about, rather than at work, so lifting the side of my skirt to get to my wallet or phone is less noticeably odd. It also works a lot better in the summer or warmer climate.

                  Best case situation, though, is to really look for dresses with pockets. It is a challenge, but I have three that I really love. So they are out there!

                5. MJLurver*

                  This brings me back to Funkhauser’s dripping wet fifty-dollar-bill on “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Larry ran into his friend (“Little Orphan Funkhauser”) who owed him $50 for a bet Larry won. The friend was jogging when they bumped into each other on the street and insisted on giving Larry the fifty dollar bill he kept tucked in his sweaty sock. It was drenched and of course Larry didn’t want the money……..he eventually accepted it and tried using it (unsuccessfully) at various stores and of course none of the vendors wanted to accept it.

                  So gross!

                6. SS Express*

                  I guess your daughters’ personal style doesn’t reflect that of all women, because plenty of women love clothes with pockets. A common response to a compliment on a dress is “thanks, it has POCKETS!” while sticking your hands in said pockets to demonstrate – after which everyone will ooh and aah and demand to know where you got it. Women joke (or not joke) about how if a dress has pockets they automatically buy it. Bridal blogs post lists of *wedding dresses* with pockets, and commenters go nuts for them. Finding a dress with pockets is exciting and basically a triumph, because they’re extremely desirable yet very hard to find.

              3. Oranges*

                I actually store my phone in my bra. I’m just… it’s my phone, I’m the only person who will use it… etc. Apparently I’m gross? Also with the wallet in my bra the money is not in direct contact with my skin. Ergo no sweaty money.

              4. Observer*

                @Oranges, a purse in your bra is better than money directly in your bra. But, honestly, I don’t see why reaching into your bra in public on a regular basis is ok.

              5. Panda Bandit*

                @Oranges, yeah, I actually don’t care if people keep things in their bras. I’m not gonna judge you. My question to the poster above though, once you put your money in your wallet, don’t you need a pocket to keep your wallet in?

              6. PhyllisB*

                There was no way to nest a comment under SS Express, but 1000+ on the dresses with pockets. I have bought three from Coldwater Creek that have pockets, and I LOVE THEM!!! Every time I wear one of them, I hear, “WHERE DID YOU GET THAT DRESS!!!??? I love it!! And the pockets!!” FYI: CWC can be a bit pricey, but their styles are pretty classic, and their Clearance section has some good bargains. (where I bought my wonderful dresses.)

              7. Jasnah*

                I’m genuinely perplexed. I get that it sucks that women’s clothes don’t have pockets. But isn’t that why we carry bags? They make them in all shapes and sizes.

                Undergarments are not for storage. It’d be gross for a dude to pull out his phone from his boxers. Bottom line, nobody should be reaching into or adjusting or handling the bathing suit area at work!

            3. anon so i don't get judged*

              I’ll add, before the judgment in this thread descends on me for being gross, that this is when I don’t have running shorts/pants with pockets because it is extremely hard to find ones that fit, don’t give me a rash, or aren’t an outrageous amount of money.

              1. Red Reader*

                No judging, just a drive-by suggestion that’s worth all that you paid for it — if you do want an alternative, check out a FlipBelt. I got mine on Amazon fairly inexpensively, it can be worn with anything else, and holds a truly ridiculous amount of stuff without sliding around, riding up, falling down, or looking really weird. Machine-washable, if you need it to be. Comes in multiple sizes. And the way I wear mine, at least, it never touches my skin, just sits over the hips of my running tights. (Plus it’s actually handy to wear with some casual maxi skirts that have a tendency to slide down, haha. I’m between sizes, so the stretchier ones are more likely to slip, and the belt holds them in place.)

              2. Owler*

                There is a running tunic/dress made by a small company in Washington State that has a back pocket. Nuu-Muu, with a Ruu style for the pocket. Not cheap, but it’s supporting a woman-owned small business, and the community of wearers is lovely.

            4. Oranges*

              I do this every day. With the phone. It would be different if anyone besides myself had to touch it. But otherwise… nah not worth it.

          2. AnnaBananna*

            I think the equivalent would be the boob scratch (and seriously, why are boobs itchy?!). I remember being younger and wanting to cry because I couldn’t take care of it in class like I needed/wanted to.

        2. Boop*

          I distinctly remember a young man in my high school who would sit in class with his hand down his pants. I figured he was worried they were going to make a break for it.

          1. Aitch Arr*

            My high school classmate would basically ‘hold it’ on the outside of his pants during class.

            At one point, a friend of mine told him: “it’s not going to fall off!”

          2. Bobbin Ufgood*

            In middle school there was a guy who had his hands down his pants all the way through Spanish every day, and he was definitely doing something in there. Then, at least once or twice a class period, he would ask if he could go wash his hands, and then go right back in there. The teacher never did a thing about it. SO GROSS!

          3. AKchic*

            My youngest used to hold himself while watching tv. He was maybe 3. I finally asked why he did it. His response? “So they don’t run away during the scary parts”.

            What was he watching? Scooby Doo (his favorite show at the time).

        3. Gumby*

          Wait, bra strap adjustment can’t be done in mixed company? I’m touching my shoulder. Does that really have to be done in private? Seriously asking here because most of my co-workers are men and I probably pull the straps up at least 5 – 10 times a day and seldom think to check if anyone else is in line-of-sight. I’m not disarranging my top of anything, just a quick pull to keep things from sliding off the shoulder.

            1. Elty*

              I’m sorry but no. I’m not a large person at all, and even though I have had my bras professionally fitted, the straps fall down all the time. Sometimes we have to go with the closest fit, and some of us have narrow shoulders. If I didn’t pull up the straps, there would be a much more significant issue at hand.

              1. Loose Seal*

                I know I’m late to this and it’s verging on off topic, but I was completely flabbergasted to see on TV (on What Not To Wear) that you can get your bras tailored. It completely changed my life! I now get the closest one that fits slightly big and get a tailor to fit it to me. No more gaps, pulls, or slipping straps. It’s a miracle!

              2. delphine from Belgium*

                I have this issue too, but I know that it is caused by a missing muscle in my shoulders (a familly issue diagnosed by my medical aunt).
                No regular bra for me (no cute lingerie), only the one where I can cross the straps (or ugly sport bra).
                I figured I was alone by the low market possibilities, but it seems that others have the same issue ! I feel less alone thanks to you.
                Maybe we should start a petition toward bra-makers so that they address this and create more bra with multiposition straps

                1. True Story*

                  One awesome bra that has a hook to cross the straps is the Betsy Johnson Forever Perfect line. You can turn it into a racerback anytime you want. Only bummer is that they stopped making the cute colors! You can still find some of them NWT on eBay though.

              3. Else*

                I have this issue, but I can mostly fix it by wearing racerbacks, especially that close in the front.

            2. Oranges*

              My shoulders are… extra slope-y I guess? Because the only time they don’t fall off my shoulders is when I get the t-shirt straps or the cross straps. (This has the issue peekaboo bra strap sometimes with a normal shirt because the straps are closer to my neck.) So no. It doesn’t automatically mean that. It’s an indicator only.

              1. Artemesia*

                I don’t think I have unusually narrow shoulders or whatever and my bra straps always slide down as well — and the racer backs show at the necklines — never figured out an easy way to deal. There are little silicon thinks you can thread the straps through and put on your shoulders that sort of work sometimes or sew tapes in your clothes to snap the straps in — all annoying — so I just adjust — not necessary in private but then I wouldn’t do it while talking to people at the cocktail party or in front of my boss either.

              2. TardyTardis*

                The wide straps on the 18 hour Playtex bra stay on really well, and the price is reasonable on them, too.

            3. SS Express*

              Even a perfectly fitted bra (which isn’t always an option to begin with) can still move around a little throughout the day as the wearer moves their body to reach, lift etc.

              1. Dove*

                Plus, the straps stretch out as the bra gets used – at a somewhat faster rate than the band does. So the straps will start sliding around and needing adjustment well before the bra needs retirement. I’ve got brand new bras that have straps that are slipping, and fit isn’t the issue – it’s that the straps have stretched a little and need to be adjusted.

            4. Gumby*

              It does. I went to a specialty shop in the UK (I live in the US but bra shopping here is stupid) to ensure it. If the straps are tight enough that they don’t move, they are doing the work of holding things up when it is supposed to be the band doing the work. (And that way also leads to shoulder grooves and pain.) Believe me, I’ve done the research, read the reddit, visited the professionals.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            Shorten your bra straps, or switch them so they cross in the back. They shouldn’t be falling down all the time.

            1. KC without the sunshine band*

              Yup this…. I switched to racerback bras and haven’t adjusted a strap since. A small luxury.

            2. Res Admin*

              My bras have been professionally fit and I still have that problem. Tightening the straps can actually make it worse, not better. I also already pay around $100 for a single bra–I don’t even want to know how much one with a specialty back would cost in my size. In other words, if you don’t have the problem, be grateful–not everyone is that fortunate.

              1. Observer*

                Some professional fitters are not as good as they think. And the issue is not cost. I used to have this issue all the time. I went to a new place – no more problems. Also, racer back bras / bras that let you cross the straps in the back aren’t necessarily that expensive.

                9 times out of 10, constantly falling straps are a fit problem, or the bra is ready to be retired.

                1. delphine from Belgium*

                  Sometimes it is the shoulders, not the bra !
                  Please consider that when *all* bra falls, we have searched and tried a lot.
                  I have a shoulder issue and nothing can stay on.

                2. Jadelyn*

                  “The issue is not cost.” Can I come live in whatever universe you’re posting from? Cause it sounds like a much nicer place than my universe, in which I’ve been wearing bras that should’ve been retired six months ago (or more) but I kept wearing them because I am a 38K and bras in that size do not generally come cheap, and since my other half got laid off earlier this year we’re scraping by on my salary and there hasn’t been money for new bras. Not everyone can afford professional bra fittings and tailored bras, ffs.

                3. Mookie*

                  I think what Observer was getting at is that high cost doesn’t necessarily mean high quality, and that quality and fit (for SOME people and their bodies) can be affordable.

          2. ElspethGC*

            Some of our teachers seemed to think so, but then some of our teachers were stuck in the mid-twentieth century rather than, say, 2010. It was more the guys that got mildly weirded out by it, but like I said, they’d spent their entire teen existence around other guys rather than girls. I think they definitely saw bras as a sexual thing rather than a useful item of clothing, and were slightly confused when we understandably treated it as the latter.

            The main bra culprit for me was when I put my hand up in class and the underwire bit of the band moved so it wasn’t actually under my boob anymore. You know that thing where you have to pull the band back down back into place? I did actually get told by a teacher that it wasn’t appropriate, but it was that or have my boob pop out the bottom of my bra in the middle of class, so…

          3. IndoorCat*

            You should probably step aside for a second when adjusting your bra, I think. Sorry!

            I feel you, because it seems like it shouldn’t be a huge thing, and in some cultures / subcultures, it’s not.

            But, there are also cultures / subcultures where fixing a wedgie or a man adjusting his genitals isn’t a big deal either (I can think of a few I’ve been part of). So, in general, if your social scene finds wedgie-fixing and genital-adjusting slightly embarrassing and should be done out-of-sight, they’re also going to find bra-adjusting or strap-fixing slightly embarrassing. I can’t really think of any where one is acceptable and the other isn’t that aren’t already mono-gendered places.

          4. Frankie*

            I definitely don’t think adjusting a bra strap is taboo in public. Bras honestly just don’t work perfectly on everyone’s bodies, especially when you have to move from sitting to standing, etc., EVEN if you get fitted in multiple places/try multiple bra types & sizes/etc. etc. They’re just imperfect contraptions, tbh.

            I try not to do it when eyes are on me, but it’s not like adjusting underwear or something where it’s a mandatory visit to a private space.

          5. Elsajeni*

            I think it depends — like, sometimes I can do it casually through my shirt or with a very slight adjustment of my neckline, sometimes (if I’m wearing a higher-collared shirt in particular, or a long-sleeved shirt where pushing the strap up from the other side isn’t an option) I’m not going to get it without sticking one hand pretty much fully inside my shirt to wrangle the damn thing. I figure the former I can get away with in public, as long as I’m not in the middle of a one-on-one conversation, but the latter is a private activity.

        4. MsClaw*

          Many years ago I had a work friend who adjusted himself compulsively (or at least it seemed that way to me). I finally said something like ‘dude you have to stop that, it’s weird’ and he was mortified. He didn’t realize he was doing it. He had also gone to an all-boys school and I think it was probably a habit he developed then, and probably no one cared.

        5. Zillah*

          I don’t see mentioning your period as being all that different from mentioning that you have an upset stomach or a headache. If you go into details about how much you’re bleeding or what kind of sanitary products you use, sure, maybe that’s oversharing, but a simple “my cramps are really uncomfortable today” or “do you have a tampon” aren’t at all equivalent to touching yourself.

          1. Gadget Hackwrench*

            This. It’s a thing that happens. You don’t need to go into gross detail, but honestly it really should not be taboo to mention the fact that you’re having menstrual cramps. They hurt. Sometimes very badly. Honestly I don’t bother. Sometimes one hits hard and I wince visibly, and then people ask if I’m okay. Some people would lie about the source but me?

            “Nothing, just a cramp.”
            “What did you eat?”
            “Wrong organ.”

            Or just flat up.

            “My uterus is trying to murder me.”

      2. Hills to Die on*

        It’s not common, but at the same time I don’t think I could count how many times I have seen a man adjust himself in front of me during casual conversation over the years (during work or in a social setting). What exactly goes on down there? Are they trying to run away or something???

        1. Jake*

          Do you want to know, or is that a rhetorical question?

          There are 2 reasons that I generally need to adjust for, but it’s not really appropriate conversion unless you are genuinely curious.

            1. PhyllisB*

              My husband used to do this all the time at home with his hand INSIDE. I didn’t care as long as it was just me, when my girls came to me all grossed out I had to remind him to cool it. He has converted to boxer briefs so maybe that’s helped.

          1. Hills to Die on*

            Well, we have taken it this far, so yes, I am a generally curious person and would like to know.

            1. Lance*

              One big possibility is boxers. They… do not do any real job of holding things in place, let me simply put it that way.

              1. Liet-Kinda*

                Yeah. I don’t get guys who wear non-fitted, baggy traditional boxers – at the risk of discussing more about my underwear preferences than I ever thought I would on this site, a fitted boxer brief does a much better job of keeping everything sorted and not jangling around painfully.

                1. Archie Goodwin*

                  Welcome to the club. I think the fact that I am discussing this AT ALL would amaze many people who have known me for years.

                  Signed, the guy who made a double entendre at a post-choir-rehearsal happy hour last week and actually managed to surprise our choir president, who has known me for nine years and apparently never expected it of me.

                2. Not A Morning Person*

                  I’ve heard that the boxers can be part of an effort to better promote fertility since they are cooler and heat can damage fertility in males. IANAD. Or it could just be more comfortable for some men.

                3. Anon123*

                  My husband only wears boxers. He says they’re much more comfortable because there’s some airflow.

                4. Gadget Hackwrench*

                  My fella wears briefs. Apparently this is taboo or childish for an adult. On the other hand we’ve been together over 12 years and I’ve never seen him adjust himself once his pants are on, so…. I guess they keep everything in place quite well. And above the inseam.

              2. Red Reader*

                yeah, I had an ex who went commando and had to adjust regularly because nothing, ahem, stayed where he put it for more than a few minutes.

            2. Anon Anon*

              I think it’s fair to mention that these are external dangling parts, like breasts, and there is more variety to them than there is to the underwear designed for them. So it probably depends not just on the choice of underwear but on the configuration of the stuff that would need to be adjusted.

              Maybe it was just where I shopped, but I think sports bras used to come in only a limited number of sizes. And they weren’t shaped very well. So they didn’t function that great and you had to adjust things sometimes. Same with a regular bra if you wear the wrong size or type of design. I imagine it’s like that, but I’m only guessing.

              Anyway, assuming this analogy is accurate, I can imagine adjusting in front of someone once while really not thinking clearly for some reason. But it would obviously be something to do in private.

              1. Videogame Lurker*

                It is possible to find sports bras that are fitted like standard bras, but those are generally more expensive than XS/S/M/L/XL/XXL so forth sizing.
                *says someone whose ribs would make her an M in sports bras with that method, but cup forces her in XL, so she “flops out” the bottom due to ribs*
                I did once describe a well-fitting bra as serving the same purpose as a proper fitting jock strap to my father, and that seemed to end the “Oh, go up a rib size, down a cup to buy cheaper and easier to find bras!”
                But I’m not one with lower external parts, so my knowledge for such care is secondhand information at best.

              2. Sally*

                When I first saw”…configuration of the stuff that would need to be adjusted,” I read it as “conflagration” and I couldn’t figure out where that sentence was going!

          2. samiratou*

            I would assume, generally speaking, that it has to do with things adjusting themselves so a seam is rubbing or pinching or what have you, and a quick adjustment will fix that discomfort.

            I’m avoiding the obvious one, for reasons I hope are obvious.

            /doesn’t own a penis, though, so this is just a guess.

            1. Kat in VA*

              I asked the husband (who possesses the requisite parts) and he said simply, “Sometimes they get stuck to your leg.”

              He wears boxers. That’s your TMI for the evening.

              Oh wait, there’s more. Being somewhat blessed in the chest department, I can see where sweaty underboobs (sans bra) might mimic a similar sensation. So I can somewhat empathize.

              That being said, when questioned, he emphatically denies adjusting twig n’ berries around other people, and definitely not around women.

          3. Liet-Kinda*

            Sometimes your tackle heads down the wrong pant leg, gets cramped by the underdrawers, or gets settled too far back between the thighs. Lots of ways it can get disarrayed or smushed in awkward and uncomfortable configurations. However, of course, most of us either get stuff wrangled in private, or we pretend we’re shaking something off our shoe, or we fall back for a second so we’re out of sight.

              1. Liet-Kinda*

                Well if one, as an elderly tailor once phrased it to me, “dresses left,” then dressing right is a peculiarly unsettling and uncomfortable experience, and vice versa.

                1. Oranges*

                  You know… before I read this I just assumed that the dangling bits were above the crotch inseam. You know pants really aren’t good for male dangling parts…

                2. AsItIs*

                  Quite Oranges. I think we should encourage the wearing kilts, if it weren’t considered cultural appropriation.

            1. Bulbasaur*

              Once in a while one of those configurations becomes uncomfortable enough that it needs to be corrected as a matter of some urgency (some of those parts really don’t like being wedged or compressed). However, that should be rare (if it’s not, then your undergarment selection process probably needs a review) and most of us learn strategies for dealing with it discreetly. If there isn’t a toilet cubicle, empty conference room or phone booth handy, then you can always resort to distraction tactics to buy a few seconds.

              “Hey, is that a lesser spotted purple crested marsh crane? I’ve never seen one in the wild before!”
              “What are those guys out there doing? Should we call the cops?”

        2. TootsNYC*

          I don’t know–it makes total sense to me that occasionally these external appendages of flesh might end up in an uncomfortable position, especially in relation to someone’s clothing.

          I don’t have them, personally, but I’ve seen them, and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination, or even a dirty mind, to think that now and then someone’s underwear or trousers would bind against them.

          I *do* slide a slipping bra strap back up on my shoulder sometimes; it seems silly to completely excuse myself for something that small (did my boob slide around in the cup? that’s a trip to the bathroom). I might not even think about it!

          So I can see that a guy might try to shift something around quickly, and not necessarily have a conscious “Oh, let me shift my balls around” thought.

          Of course it’s not polite, but it can be totally unconscious.

          1. One of the Sarahs*

            I don’t think it’s analogous to sliding a bra strap – that would be more like a guy shaking/adjusting his clothes without touching his junk, or doing up a fly if he noticed it was undone. This is the equivalent of adjusting a boob in a bra cup.

          2. Anonymously dissenting opinion*

            I kind of agree. I thought about writing something similar. I am a wife of a man and mom of a teen boy and 21 y.o. man, and I work with mostly men. I can’t say I see (or notice) excessive ball touching daily, but without being in the OP’s shoes, I can’t decide if it is a gross big deal or not. I see it more like if someone has a booger and they reach up to fix the situation. I would politely pretend I didn’t notice the booger or the pick. Sometimes there is no discreet option.

            As far as bras, I have been known to give the band a tug in conversation. I am not going to stand there with my boob cut in half while talking to someone. I would be worried that they can tell what’s going on under my shirt. So, while not the same, I understand the male adjustment need.

          3. Cochrane*

            In my circle of guy friends, if someone needed a moment for scrotal realignment, he’d call “shift!” and we’d politely look away.

        3. Smarty Boots*

          Snerk! Reminds me of Elaine’s line in the shrinkage episode of Seinfeld: I don’t know how you guys walk around with those things.

        4. Archie Goodwin*

          It’s not common, because I think a lot of us have figured out/have been taught (yes, there was a bit of discussion on this point from my Family Life teacher in middle school) that adjustments can be done via the pocket, if need be. It’s not the most comfortable way of doing things, but it’s the only way it ought to be done in public.

          1. So long and thanks for all the fish*

            Finally, a reason men need pockets while women don’t! I’ve been looking for one :)

        5. Cyrus*

          I often adjust myself to sit more comfortably in the groin area. Sitting up straighter, stretching my legs a bit and putting them back in different positions, etc. Sometimes I get self-conscious about “manspreading” and decide to rein it in. Office chairs are often comfortable but slouching is not conducive to looking professional in a meeting.

          I have the impression that the OP is actually talking about someone manually adjusting his balls, though, reaching down with his hands and moving the equipment from one place to another, which is very different from what I’m thinking of. I think/hope no one can tell the difference between what I’m doing and preventing my feet from falling asleep or something, whereas the OP sounds like they’re talking about something a lot more blatant. It’s been months since I had to use my hands for anything genitalia-related at work outside the bathroom.

          1. KC without the sunshine band*

            OMG, manspreading. I had an employee one time that when sitting, spread his legs as wide as the seat would let him and sometimes that was truly awkward. I never figured out how to tell him to get his knees in the same zip code.

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden*

            RE: Sitting more comfortably: as a ciswoman who has fairly limited male-part-experience (one partner), this was never a ‘thing’ I understood even if my husband did occasionally reference it. Then we had a son, and I saw the look on his face the first time he kind of sat/toppled funny and must have, erm, sat on one of them. That was really the first time I thought about what it must be like to have to learn to sit, walk, etc while taking care of these two wobbly bits on the outside.

    2. Zip Silver*

      It’s not terribly uncommon, especially if he’s wearing boxers rather than tighter boxer-briefs or trunks that offer more support.

      Honestly I’ve seen enough women make bra adjustments in public that it doesn’t even faze me. Same sort of situation.

      1. Autumnheart*

        It’s really not. Women get underwear caught up in their junk too, but how often does one see a woman adjusting her thong or Spanx in public? Practically never.

        1. Zip Silver*

          Thongs and spanks don’t cover dangly bits. I’ve seen plenty of women in public adjust their chest (not the strap, but the dangly bit inside the cup)

          1. Friday afternoon fever*

            What an oddly specific definition of “dangly bits.” Spanx …. cover everything?

            1. Zip Silver*

              I honestly didn’t know. I’ve always assumed that spanx were to cover up a pot belly and smooth out rolls, rather than support like a bra.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          I’ve never seen a woman adjusting underwear out of her front junk, but I’ve seen plenty of them adjusting it out of the butt crack.

          1. Zip Silver*

            I honestly didn’t know. I’ve always assumed that spanx were to cover up a pot belly and smooth out rolls, rather than support like a bra.

      2. Don't adjust private areas in public period*

        I would agree that women adjusting their breasts in public are the equivalent, but I don’t think either is appropriate (men adjusting genitalia or women adjusting breasts) in public or particularly in the workplace. Just because you see it often doesn’t make it okay. Also…is it common to see women adjusting their breasts in public?? Honestly, just curious to see how many people say yes since I’ve never considered it a common thing. (Well, I did have one coworker who used to do it unconsciously until someone pointed it out to her…)

        1. Zip Silver*

          I’m not totally sure how common it, but honestly guys are likely paying more attention to chests than women are. Not sure if it goes the other way around, but I honestly don’t ever notice other guys making the adjustment.

        2. Gaia*

          I would argue that one is adjusting genitalia and the other isn’t so it really isn’t the same thing.

          That said..

          Bra strap adjustments are seriously not a big deal, bra cup adjustments should probably be done privately. Genitalia adjustments (from any gender or configuration) should ALWAYS be private.

          1. Don't adjust private areas in public period*

            I agree that they’re not exactly the same thing, but just the fact that it’s adjusting something private that should be done in private makes the two equitable. Women just have more things that we can adjust :) (also agree that bra strap adjustments are not a big deal at all either, bra cup adjustments is what I’m talking about)

      3. MJLurver*

        Wellllll, I don’t know. Shoulder areas and the hanging fruit area are pretty different as far as “touching in public” acceptability

        This sounds like someone who has a habit of adjusting down there due to either: doing it unconsciously because he’s a recent college grad and simply does not even realizing he’s doing it (it’s something he probably did 50-60 times a day in his frat house without a second thought along with every other frat brother) OR he believes that if he’s having a conversation and is holding eye contact with the other person, then that person won’t notice the adjustment while it’s happening. I worked with someone who would occasionally pull the latter adjustment style and I wanted to say “You know, just because you’re maintaining eye contact with me doesn’t mean I can’t see your hand at your crotch while you do your little dance lifting your legs up and down individually.”

        1. Videogame Lurker*

          A slight derail, but I suddenly have an image of a man maintaining eye contact with the intense stare while adjusting looking like a dog staring someone down in the eye while making a log in a “I DARE YA TO SAY SOMETHING” kind of way.
          It was amusing, horrifying, and a total derail. Not even a slight derail.

          If that were the case, then a strong reaction would be needed, of course.

          1. Haligolightly*

            I’m not sure how I’m going to explain to my co-workers the bark of laughter this prompted…

    3. 101010101*

      I realised someone I knew was doing this (non work) and made a light joke. Much to my embarrassment it forced them to disclose an ongoing medical condition.

      Lesson was: Don’t assume anything or pre judge them – ask them in a way about it so they can feel open to disclose something potentially embarrassing for them. And potentially, something they are trying to live with or treat.

  3. InfoSec SemiPro*

    Wow. So awkward. Feel free to return that horrible embarrassment back to the dude who needs his boss to tell him to stop touching himself in public. At work.

    I think you could also use Alison’s usual phrasing of “Going forward, I need you to only handle yourself in private. Can you commit to that?”

    1. Lisa*

      OMG, you’re suggested phrasing using Alison’s usual language is the BEST thing I’ve read today. Kudos.

    2. MillersSpring*

      Two weeks later: “You’re still adjusting yourself in front of people after we discussed that you would stop. What’s going on?”

      1. Liet-Kinda*

        “My dude: invest in some Gold Bond or this is going to be the most embarrassing PIP in the history of management.”

        1. Parenthetically*

          I’m falling apart laughing, and legitimately Gold Bond on the junk was one of my immediate thoughts. If you’re chafing that badly that you need to be adjusting nonstop, you have a… humidity problem.

        2. EveytheBunny*

          We had to fire a man for always looking at the chest area of women (there were a lot of complaints). He was on a PIP. During the termination conversation he kept saying I don’t look at women’s chests and my boss (a woman) had to point out that he was doing it right then while talking to her. Some people are oblivious.

      2. wheeeee*

        Two weeks later: “The next time you do that I will take out my phone and you’ll be doing it on Facebook live.”

    3. V*

      I just did a spit take in my lunch. Bloody hell.

      What’s next? Setting up a 360 review of the action? :)

  4. Dame Judi Brunch*

    Alison, I love your option 3. Straight to the point and matter-of-fact.
    OP, sorry you have to deal with this.

      1. Zombeyonce*

        Do you think a non-verbal indication would work just as well? I imagined someone doing that in front of me and I think my automatic response would be to hold my hand partially in front of my face blocking that part of their body from my view while raising my eyebrow and meeting their eyes. Would that be more awkward than just saying something?

        1. EddieSherbert*

          My first thought for non-verbal indication was “stare at his junk. Look shocked.”

          Yours is better, I think!

            1. EddieSherbert*

              Ugh. Script time then… Good luck. I think Alison’s are very reasonable.

              Please update us!

          1. bonkerballs*

            That seems like a terrible idea. It’s very possible that this is an unconscious reflex on his part and he wouldn’t understand your staring. And I know I would get creeped out if someone just started staring at my junk with a shocked face and if it happened more than once I would be talking to a manger about their inappropriate sexual behavior. Far better to actually tell someone there’s a problem rather than hoping they can read your mind.

        2. Liet-Kinda*

          I think making it maximally awkward is the way to go. “Can you juggle those on your own time?”

  5. Wulfgar*

    My high school social studies teacher constantly adjusted himself; during class, at softball games he coached, at graduation. It was distracting for a while, but I think we all got used to it. But, we all laughed quite a bit because he didn’t try to hide it at all.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I seem to remember a teacher in my middle school that constantly played “pocket pinball” as well. All the students would laugh about it and no girls wanted to sit in the front row. Have no idea what the issue was! Maybe jock itch or something like that?

        1. KC without the sunshine band*

          We had a reporter from the local paper who would play pocket pool standing on the sidelines… of the high school basketball games. Boys and girls. Ugh.

      1. Else*

        Did you go to my school? We did too! We called him Coach-Itch, in an attempt to be classier than saying Crotch Itch.

    2. SignalLost*

      As an adult, I *think* that was what my high school librarian was doing. As a teen, all I knew was that he sure liked to jingle his change in his pants pocket. I try not to do retro-skeeves as a rule, but I am kinda retro-skeeved on this one.

    3. CR*

      There was a kid in my class in grade six who was the same, and everybody noticed. It almost looked like a nervous tic. I wonder if that kid grew up to be the guy in OP’s letter.

    4. Smarty Boots*

      Jimmy Connors. Good grief, how did he keep from getting…physically distracted…with all the self-adjusting and self-touching in the middle of tennis matches??

    5. ;-)*

      About 15 years ago, a guy who was studying to become a teacher did an internship at my school. He was really nervous his first day and touched his groin area quite a lot during the lesson.
      Perhaps luckely for him (though also definitely very humiliating), his 16-year-old niece was in our class as well, and after his first day she tactfully informed him of his nervous tic.
      He never did it again, graduated as a teacher and even became a teacher at our school (though never teached his niece again because of the family ties). Last I heard he was even one of the more popular teachers at school.

      All to say that yes, it might be just a nervous tic. If that is the case then a tactfully conversation will do. Should the behaviour continue, then it is a whole different case.

  6. Frozen Ginger*

    I’m a little confused, but suggesting he go to the bathroom doesn’t make sense to me? (Disclosure: I do not have balls) I thought the reason he’d be adjusting himself (so frequently) is because of how he’s sitting, so the second he stood up he would no longer have an issue.

    1. Jake, but not from State Farm*

      As someone who is so “equipped,” they move in weird places while sitting, standing, cartwheeling, etc. Horribly inconvenient things.

        1. EmKay*

          Thank you for the mental image that is cartwheeling. No really, thank you. I don’t want to pour bleach into my eye sockets AT ALL.

          1. Akcipitrokulo*

            Best man at a friend’s wedding did cartwheel.

            It was traditional wedding.

            Traditional dress.


            1. Lalaith*

              My college marching band wore kilts. And every year at the last game, the seniors did cartwheels. The men in the band tended to be rather traditional (“regimental”, I believe they called it) about what was… or wasn’t… under the kilts. Except when their turn came to do the cartwheel, they tended to wear funny boxers :) I can’t say I ever saw anything untoward!

        1. whingedrinking*

          I always think of the Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal sketch where God is divvying stuff up to humanity by gender and one of the options is “dangly body parts”. One of the dudes says men should get testicles, even though everyone else, including the other man, is baffled why anyone would want them. The first guy is just really excited about having a body part that looks like a naked mole rat. The women, meanwhile, want breasts because God has them, and everybody does what she says!

      1. OlympiasEpiriot*

        This is why jockstraps were invented. Also, I have heard that the 2xist brand is great. (i am not so equipped, so I am not writing from personal experience.)

      2. Wulfgar*

        It seems like they can go in opposite directions. I don’t even know how my husband can run with those things; they seem to be so unwieldy.

        1. Maolin*

          There were some exceptional submissions today, 90% of them on this very site>letter>comment thread, but you, Willow, have won the Internet today! Well played!

      3. Flash Bristow*

        So – speaking as a non-ball owner (except my husband’s by proxy, I guess!) – aren’t there different types and styles of underwear! Trunks, boxers, budgie smugglers, etc? If he’s slipping around in there and needs to adjust, could he buy a better design or size of underwear?

        Genuine question!

      4. Shoes on My Cat*

        Oh thank you! I had noooooo idea they were so er, mobile. And now for the giggling portion of my evening

    2. Bea*

      Say you have a wedgie…do you seek privacy or just dig it out during a meeting? Or your bra fails you and you need to adjust yourself…

      You don’t need balls, just the knowledge these things should be done in a restroom or otherwise private area that are reasonable for touching yourself in awkward ways.

      1. SignalLost*

        Or at least a reasonable expectation of effective privacy. I’m not going to adjust my bra strap while staring at my coworker in a meeting, but I’m not gonna go to the bathroom to do it, either, if we’re all just working at our desks. On the other hand, I would never touch my groin, breasts, or armpits outside the bathroom at work unless I had just suffered a stapling or other actual injury. (Obviously, armpits are neither a primary nor secondary sexual characteristic. But we work pretty hard to pretend we don’t have armpits at work, so they’re pretty similar.)

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Neither, but in the privacy of my own office or some other place where I won’t be observed.

          Also, if I have a bra the straps of which fall down repeatedly, I either shorten the straps so it fits or throw it out and get a new bra, or at least reserve that bra for at-home wear only, so I don’t have to keep picking at myself at work. There are generally long-term solutions for wardrobe malfunctions.

          1. SignalLost*

            I’m fascinated that you assume something that happens to all bra-wearers at some point is a perpetual problem for me based on one comment. Can you shed some light on why you felt the need to tack on a bunch of stuff about wardrobe solutions?

    3. The Cosmic Avenger*

      It might not necessarily be relieved by standing up — it could be the material or fit of his clothes that is causing an issue. (But that still doesn’t make it one that anyone at the office needs to know about!!) But it’s also the principle that Alison uses with a lot of offensive behavior: don’t assume it’s intentional, just give them a way out. Even if it is intentional, doing that means they can’t continue without outright admitting that they’re doing it intentionally, at which point you don’t have to give them the least consideration or warning before taking drastic action.

      1. Frozen Ginger*

        Ohhh gotcha. Thanks for clarifying!

        The second suggestion still seems a little off to me, but I agree #3 is a good one.

    4. SignalLost*

      It’s more calling out that he’s being super gross and offensive, rather than suggesting there’s an actual need for him to adjust himself. There may be! I am a past master of the casual shrug that puts my underwire back in place – but I’m not really getting in there and hoisting my breasts around in front of my coworkers.

    5. Hey Karma, Over here.*

      But he’s adjusting himself while he stands and talks to people. I worked with someone like this, story below, and if, you can imagine someone with an eye tic, it’s closer than a comfort issue. It’s an involuntary, unconscious act. He did it talking to the other man in the office.

  7. RUKiddingMe*

    Oblivious? Posssiiibbbllyyy…but my $20.00 says it’s deliberate.

    Plenty of males manage the day to day without reoeatedly playing with themselves in public.

    I am assuming (I know…) OP is a woman here because I can’t see most guys doing this with other guys.

        1. Artemesia*

          I have been with my husband for 47 years and don’t ever recall him doing this publicly. I don’t recall any co-workers doing it in the office either.

          1. Xarcady*

            Yeah, I grew up with 5 brothers who were at least semi-uncouth–burping contests at the dinner table, for example. I think I may have seen two of them adjust themselves, ever. And then only once per brother.

            If my brothers could figure this out, the OP’s coworker should be able to learn.

            1. Zillah*

              Ditto. My brother and father can both be very enthused about belching and farting, and I can’t think of a time I’ve ever seen them adjust themselves.

          2. many bells down*

            Yeah my husband “adjusts” all the time at home, but not at work or when we have company. I figure it’s like a mindless habit; if he’s at home playing Warframe all day, he’s doing that like I might be twirling my hair if I’m binging “Poldark.” When we’re doing something else we don’t … fiddle.

          3. RUKiddingMe*

            Yup. First husband 19 years, current husband 14 years, raised a son, had a father, had a step-father…many other males in my life over the past half century plus and have never observed anyone doing this all the time in front of other people unless it was some guy grabbing it deliberately and obviously while making some sort of vulgar gesture and comment.

            The only time I’ve ever observed guys doing that it’s been where I just happen to see it as they are trying to be discreet and casual real quick (like adjusting a bra strap) and I caught it out of the corner of my eye or something. Definitely nothing deliberate.

            That the employee is the report of the OP makes it difficult for him to be that blatant, but seriously my money is on some sort of dominance thing going on.

      1. wheeeee*

        I thought the same thing. It’s hard for me to believe this guy doesn’t know he’s handling his junk in front of his boss. If someone else was handling his junk, he’d be aware of it, no? OP if you have to speak to him more than once about this, I’d say you have a severe employee problem here.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      I’ve seen it with guys. I had a teacher who used to do it. I think it must be a habit like picking teeth, nose, scratching back, cracking knuckles, etc., etc. Maybe dude needs better fitting underwear! At least, let’s hope it that and not some perv thing.

      1. Bea*

        Many moons ago some kids decided they would lightly dust a teacher’s chalk board just enough so that it would leave a mark on his clothes if he leaned on it while writing.

        We all had perv vibes from him and were curious because he’d seemingly hump the board while doing problems on the chalk board.

        So he turned around that day and he had dust all over his crotch area. It didn’t do anything to kill his ultra perv vibes needless to say.

    2. MusicWithRocksInIt*

      My first thought was that it was some kind of power play – mostly because it is his female boss writing in about it. A lot of people seem to think it is totally subconscious, which leaves me astonished that no one in his life has ever tried to break this habit. But either way, pointing it out and asking him to stop every time is the way to go. If it is a power play you will need to reinforce that you will not put up with this behavior. If it is subconscious, he will need to realize what he is doing when he is doing it.

      1. Trinity Beeper*

        Totally agree. Nobody benefits if this behavior isn’t broken, no matter the reason. I got power play vibes, as well.

    3. BRR*

      I’ve known plenty of men who do it as a tick of sorts (and I’m a guy and other guys do it around me). That by no means makes it ok but it’s not always a conscious move. Even if they need to be adjusted though you don’t do it in front of other people. This isn’t like brushing hair behind your ear.

    4. Glomarization, Esq.*

      I am 100% with you. As a woman I can duck away so that nobody sees me adjusting my sanitary pad or some major brassiere malfunction. A dude can fix his underwear malfunction without doing it in a way that draws others’ attention to it. Dear lord, we are not 12 any more.

    5. Jasnah*

      I think this is a stretch. I think most guys would be MORE likely to do this with other guys, just as women would be more likely to adjust their bra/be open about their periods around other women. And it doesn’t sound like he’s doing this as a sexual thing, just as an unconscious habit we forget to stop in public, like picking wedgies, picking your nose, staring at people, etc.

    6. Grapey*

      When my male friends get together the adjusting actually happens way more often in my experience. It goes down the more formal the event or the more women are present. My friends consider me “one of the guys” so they don’t hide it around me. I specifically said I don’t care unless they’re handling my food.

  8. Dirty Paws*

    I think it would be worth trying to notice whether he does this during all conversations, only with women or only with you. (I made the assumption that the letter writer was a woman, please correct me if I’m wrong.)

  9. Bea*

    I’ve worked exclusively in male dominated industries and have never ran across this. With many of the guys being less than professional and excessively masculine. It’s uncommon to say the least.

    I hope the conversation fixes the issue. I would honestly loop in HR with a casual “I’m speaking to This Dude about him constantly adjusting himself in my presence.” so they know in case you need to escalate.

    1. Observer*

      I think that that’s a really good idea. I also think they should know in case others have made complaints – it would not surprise me if there is a pattern of low level harassment going on.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I agree, I read this as a low level harassment also. “Come on, I DARE you to say something to me about this. I know you can’t because the 2k other women I did this to couldn’t say anything either.”
        I think I would go with “Employee, you seem to have a lot of wardrobe malfunctions. From here forward you need to take care of that in the bathroom. It’s excessive.”

    2. KR*

      I was thinking the same thing. My industry is mostly men on the ground level, my team is entirely men, and where I live is very male dominated and male centric and while I’m sure men adjust themselves around me or in front of me, I don’t notice or notice consciously. So this guy is either doing it deliberately, needs some new pants/underwear maybe, or needs to practice being discreet!!

    3. Win*

      That is surprising to me. I can think of two or three guys around my office that are more “comfortable” getting comfortable in front of other people. It generally, at least with the ones I know, goes along with their personalities. Same kind of guys that are going to blow their nose excessively in an office full of people (I would rather do that in a bathroom).

      In my mind it falls into that same category… I try to keep it subtle but nearly every time I stand up I have to take that one really wide step or do something in my pocket, otherwise one testicle will be stuck to my leg for the rest of the day. It is uncomfortable…. and if I were only around other men I wouldn’t think twice about doing it openly. But I’m not, so I don’t.

    1. Jadelyn*

      You know, I had the same though. Somehow the theme of the day seems to be Bodies Are Terribly Inconvenient Things To Have At Work.

      (Personally, I think bodies are terribly inconvenient all the time and am eagerly awaiting the ability to move my consciousness into a robot, but that’s just me.)

      1. Marion Ravenwood*

        I was just about to reply and say that! (Although now I’m intrigued as to how Alison decides what questions to group together on a given day/week, apart from the obvious like holiday-themed ones.)

    2. Nicelutherangirl*

      Count me in on that sentiment! The only thing missing from one of these posts is the link to the “I’m the office pooper” letter in the “YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:” section!

  10. Drop Bear*

    Ok – don’t do this, but when a manager (!) I worked with kept adjusting himself in meetings, our CEO (youngish woman) said to him, ‘Fergus, I googled, and it’s impossible for them to get up and run away, so you don’t need to keep checking that they’re still there’. Then she went back seamlessly to the budget discussion.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Yes!!! What was Fergus’s reaction? I don’t think I could have kept a straight face in that meeting if I heard my CEO say that to someone.

      1. Drop Bear*

        I spent a bit of time staring out the window trying not to laugh! Fergus said words to the effect of, ‘Thank god, I can stop worrying’. Had to give him props for that – and to her for knowing what would fly with him.

      1. Drop Bear*

        We are serious people doing serious jobs – we moved on of course. :D Or all stared at the floor, wall etc, so we didn’t make eye contact with each other. One or the other.

    2. Jadelyn*

      I had to duck down behind my monitor and hold my breath to keep from pterodactyl-screeching with laughter at this. That CEO deserves a medal.

      1. For real*

        Jesus Christ, nothing is that funny.

        Would you all think it was so funny if a male manager called out a woman in the middle of a staff meeting for adjusting herself? I thought the consensus was that praise should be given in public and criticism in private.

    3. Narise*

      My husband was asleep in his chair and I laughed so hard I woke him up! I’m sorry I missed that meeting.

    4. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

      Had a boss that did it constantly – with an accompanying throat clearing. He had a very particular approach that we dubbed the “pinch and pull.” The office joke got to be to mimic the move behind his back whenever he was talking to one of us – with the cough. So so hard to take him seriously.

      Also – ball shaking is in no way equivalent to pulling a bra strap up.

      And – I’m constantly having to tell male clients to get their hand out of their pants. I just lead with “dude, get your hand out of your pants” and if they give a reason like their hands are cold I follow with “don’t care, quit shaking your dick at me.” Mostly, these are guys who haven’t bonded out and are in jail scrubs, but not always.

      Since we’re going all out here – it’s only ever happened with one woman. Elbow deep and wiggling around with concerted effort. I say, “hey now, that’s a private time activity.” She responds, “don’t worry, just putting something in the pocket God gave me.” I had to leave the pen she used in the visiting room but I took away something much more valuable – the most inspired euphemism for a body part I’ve ever heard

    5. Forrest*

      You know, I doubt everyone would be laughing hysterically if a male CEO said this to a female employee adjusting her bra straps.

      I’m very disappointed and yet not surprised that a lot of regular commenters aren’t pushing back on how these is terrible and not at all funny.

      1. Observer*

        Why is this terrible? I’m not a fan of adjusting bra straps in public, but there is no doubt that discreetly done, it’s not the same as adjusting body parts. And, if a woman were constantly adjusting her breasts, I have no doubt that people would have reacted the same.

        It didn’t happen, because women doing this are an outlier, but it’s not an outlier for men.

        1. Forrest*

          “And, if a woman were constantly adjusting her breasts, I have no doubt that people would have reacted the same.”

          You really think people on this blog would be laughing if a male CEO said ‘Jane, I googled, and it’s impossible for them to get up and run away, so you don’t need to keep checking that they’re still there’ in front of an entire meeting? Because I highly doubt that given how quick commenters are to claim female OPs are experiencing sexual harassment when they write in.

          No one should be publicly embarrassing their employee or coworker. If the CEO had an issue, she can take it up afterwards.

          1. Althea*

            Yes, it’s objectively funny and I think it applies regardless of gender.

            The only difference I notice is that I’ve never seen a woman adjusting her boobs/bra like this in public outside of a restroom, and I have seen some men doing the crotch adjust.

            And really, that makes complete sense. Women are often taught from a young age that the way they dress and their bodies will attract attention from men, and that the woman is responsible for the attention she gets. I suspect a lot of women learn not to draw EXTRA attention to those parts of their bodies, as that just makes attention more pronounced.

          2. Observer*

            I certainly would – and I am perfectly well aware that women are not always treated fairly at work.

            When someone is doing something this egregious in a public setting, calling them out publicly in the moment is often a perfectly appropriate response. It was done with humor, which certainly seems to have helped.

      2. sourgold*

        I have never understood why “but if the genders were reversed, the outcome would be different” is considered a gotcha.

  11. Just Employed Here*

    “You shouldn’t have to tell him that regularly touching his own genitalia during a work meeting is not okay”

    I laughed out loud at the “his own” there… But I guess gynacologists and urologists might have the kinds of meetings where you would have to specify *whose*.

    1. Red Reader*

      I mean, OTHER than gynos and urologists, are there many fields where you really need to specify who’s genitalia should not be regularly handled?

        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

          Uh, do you visit Joey’s tailor? I don’t even think tailor’s need to actually touch someone’s genitals.

          Prison guard is the only other field I can think of.

  12. Awkward*

    I had a coworker who did this constantly. I think it was a sort of tic. I told his manager to say something (manager was also man so thought it might be better coming from him). It never got resolved and was very off putting when he did it whilst standing next to me and I was sitting. I once saw him do it before going to shake another man’s hand and the other man just stared at his hand and didn’t take it. Very awkward.

    1. EddieSherbert*

      Good for that other guy! Nooo I do not want to shake your hand after watching you fondle your junk. Nope. No thank you.

    2. So Anon For This*

      I had a roommate like that. He always had his hand in his pocket and he appeared to be rubbing his male parts. I thought it might be a tic. He had a job where he worked from home and he seemed uncomfortable about a lot of social things. But then I noticed that he only did it around certain people. He didn’t do it around his male friends. Other stuff began to paint a picture of someone with a lot of control and aggression issues so I moved out in a hurry!

    3. Brownie*

      Yup, weird fidgeting seems to often involve crotches, sadly. A former boss of mine would, when sitting down, drop a hand down to the chair seat at his crotch and scratch. All his office chairs ended up with this weird scratch wear pattern on the seats because of this. So disconcerting when he’d do that behind the desk while talking to someone; hand disappears towards his crotch and then the scritch-scritch-scritch of fingernails on fabric would start… One of his paralegals finally said something to him about it and he, thoroughly embarrassed, stopped.

  13. Observer*

    Am I being unreasonable in pointing it out as a habit that needs to change?

    I’m sad that this is even a question. Of course this is a habit that needs to be changed!

    Do NOT let him argue or “discuss” this with you. There is nothing to discuss. Don’t let him claim that this is normal, that all guys do it, that he’s picking on you etc. This is NOT normal, and no all guys do NOT do this. Ask YOURSELF – would it be normal for a women to be adjusting her breasts at every conversation? Or scratching an itch down below, or adjusting her underwear? Would it be acceptable for anyone, male or female, to fiddle with their armpits? Do NOT mention this to him! It’s just that if you look at it this way you realize how bizarre this is. With the *occasional* quick and discreet adjustment, adults (should) know better than to do this stuff in public.

  14. JerseyGirl*

    I worked for a CEO who used to adjust his bits ALL the time. His hand would plunge down the front of his slacks mid-conversation, move things around, and then pull back out. Because he was the boss, no one ever said anything (that I know of!) but I always thought it was a HR complaint waiting to happen.

        1. Seeking Second Childhood*

          Dang…and I’m mortified if I realize my shirt tails have come untucked.
          Who trained these people!?

    1. TPS Report*

      I had a boss once who was the same way, when I worked at a restaurant. We were all disgusted, but none of us felt like we could say anything.

      1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

        Oh hell yeah! We can say the F word here! I’ve struggled over whether shit is ok. Excellent.

  15. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    I was in a similar situation in an office 20 years ago. Only 4 women and 2 men, one of whom had a serious issue with adjusting himself, it wasn’t a big gesture, it was just constant. One of the women asked me if I noticed. Yup. Another woman came over and asked what we were talking about. We said, “Jim’s” habit. She hadn’t noticed it. But she was concerned, because her 18 year old, new HS graduate daughter was working there. She called her daughter over to us, and asked, “have you met “Jim” yet?”
    “Oh, you mean, [insert pantomime of adjusting one’s junk]. Yeah, I’ve talked to him.”
    “OH MY GOD. Well, don’t.”
    And then we started discussing if he knew or not, if anyone had ever told him.
    It was a mystery!

  16. WellRed*

    It has been 30 years since I graduated high school and I still remember that so-and-so was always adjusting himself. That’s it. It’s what I remember him for.

  17. irritable vowel*

    I think guys who do this were clearly never told by anyone that it’s inappropriate, and so it falls under the umbrella of “if it itches, scratch it.” I honestly don’t think that most of them are thinking, “I am going to touch my genitals, here I go, I’m touching them,” it’s just an unconscious thing. It is certainly uncouth, but I’m not sure I agree with the necessity of saying something. (Nor would I say something to a coworker who picked her nose or burped without saying excuse me – it’s not my job to teach my coworkers better manners, although I fantasize about leaving notes in the bathroom about not leaving a mess…)

    1. Bea*

      Signs just encourage people with a stubborn streak to start doing gross things. Something experience and being childishly spiteful has taught me.

    2. Drop Bear*

      I’m not sure it’s quite the same as picking your nose. It’s one of those work ‘rules’ that you don’t draw attention to your genitals – so it’s more than just bad manners I think.

      1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

        I’d say closer to picking a wedgie–and people of both sexes do that, and it is always mildly horrifying.

    3. NextStop*

      You think he’s just never been told it’s inappropriate, and you’re against him finding out now?

  18. TootsNYC*

    I think I might have a specific conversation about it instead of waiting for “in the moment,” and then just say, “I’ve noticed that you often adjust your underwear at random times in the middle of the room. This is going to be a bad thing for you–these sorts of adjustments need to take place in private, like the bathroom. Please retrain yourself. And if it tends to be a frequent problem, you might talk to some friends about whether a different underwear would make it less necessary.”

    Just approach it like, “Your body odor is a problem” or “you interrupt people too often.”

    This is a thing that has a bad effect; he needs to address it; you are alerting him and stating the proper procedure, and perhaps pointing in a general direction of a fix; you don’t want to discuss it any more than that.

    1. Kes*

      Yeah, I kind of feel like it might be easier in some ways to address in private – maybe pull him aside after the meeting. Then you might be able to more discreetly call it out in the moment since you’ve already talked to him about it.

  19. McWhadden*

    My co-worker does this all of the time! It’s awkward when I’m in his office and he’s sitting and does while I’m standing. I don’t know why but that dynamic of it is just weird. He’s a great guy and we get a long really well but I never knew how to approach it.

  20. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

    I can’t help but get a mental “Goodfellas” type vibe off from this guy. Does he do a little head bob and say, “Not fer nuttin’, but yous guys…” while adjusting?

  21. Construction Safety*

    I’m of the “WTF dude, go play with yourself somewhere else.” camp. But we tend to be a little non-PC occasionally.

    1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

      Right there with you, no need to dance around it. Room for ambiguity does no favors for anyone. I bet the guy knows, but if hadn’t realized before, he will after you say, “dude, quit shaking your balls at me.” I know I’m using that phrase a lot, but I actually had to say it in real life to someone inches away from today – twice, two different guys.

  22. Wicked Witch of the West*

    Around 40 years ago I had a boss that would do this. Adjust the family jewels, hand down the waistband. It was totally deliberate. He only did it around the female staff, never around male co-workers. We all ignored it as we assumed he was seeking a reaction from us. He had other unpleasant habits too.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      Ugh! While I have definitely seen many men “adjust” it’s usually on the outside of pants or from inside pockets. I generally take this as a tic, or scratch the itch thing and not a power play for shock value. To just ‘reach on in’ like that is beyond horrible.

  23. KateL*

    I once had a subordinate whose nervous twitch was to adjust his balls. Coupled with really obvious flop sweat, i could always tell when he walked into my office to let me know he screwed something up, but I could never bring myself to say something. It always made me super irritated, especially because our office layout was such that the entrance to my office was directly to my right, so when I would turn to look at him, it was just ball adjustment right in my line of sight.

    Kudos to OP for saying something.

  24. Takver*

    My college physics professor (who was also a Nebula and Hugo award winning author) used to adjust himself constantly while lecturing (in a class of 300 students). On the end of quarter evaluation one of my friends commented on it. The next quarter the professor kept his hands in his pockets for the whole lecture though sometimes his shoulder would jerk up and down.

    1. strawberries and raspberries*

      Always amazing when it’s a professor doing this. My sister is required to do these “professional development” classes for the program she’s in now, and at the last one (on professional attire, of all things) she couldn’t concentrate because she was right in the front row and the professor’s pants were so tight the front row could see the outline of his penis. She agonized over whether or not she should have said something.

    2. VictorianCowgirl*

      You just have to wonder if these guys need an anti-fungal or if it’s some sort of self soothing behavior

  25. Is pumpkin a vegetable?*

    I would look alarmed/concerned, tilt my eyes slightly downward, and exclaim, “Are you alright??”

  26. SarahKay*

    I used to work with a bloke, ‘Joey’, that continually adjusted himself, although did it via his hands in his pockets. Fortunately for us another member of the team was a very forthright woman who, when she saw Joey doing this, would just bark at him “Hands out of pockets, Joey, we don’t need to see you doing that!” I think she broke Joey of the habit in about two weeks, much to the relief of everyone else on the team.
    OP, as his manager, that method might be a bit harsh but whatever you go with – Good Luck!

    1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

      See! Just name shit when you see it. It works- like sunlight being the best disinfectant.

  27. Oh Dear*

    I have a tween boy and he does it involuntarily, and we definitely tell him not to ON THE REGULAR. It is totally unconscious.

    Last summer we had an engineering intern who was the same. His male supervisor talked to him about it and it didn’t help because he didn’t even know he was doing it.

    So if anyone here used to have the habit and stopped, please tell me how to fix my kid.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Simple repetition. We tell ours to go to his room if he wants to touch it.

      When I am really trying to incentivize my teen & tween, we have a change jar. Every day that goes by without (bad thing) happening, put $X in the jar. Every time (bad thing) happens, remove half the money in the jar. At the end of (month, 60 days, 6 months, whatever) he gets to keep whatever is in the jar. Totally works. Also works on employees for other reasons than hands in pants.

      1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

        Rock on mom! If he doesn’t realize he’s doing it, calling him out every time will teach him to watch for it.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Piggybacking off the letter from yesterday, I suppose you could* shoot a rubber band at him…

      *Not actually suggesting you do so as violently as the CEO, or start assaulting your own child, but…needs must as the devil drives?

  28. Momofboys*

    I live in a house with 3 boys and my husband and when they do this at home I stare at them and say “Is everything okay down there?” They immediately stop because they realize yes I do see them doing that but they still do it occasionally unconsciously. It only takes a few short steps to the bathroom to take care of it! But this is life as a boy mom lol Lots of manstuff now that they are middleschoolers. I recently had a man at work do this while talking to me and it completely threw me off.

    1. Hills to Die on*

      Oh, the many many things you never thought you would have to say until you had sons. I hear ya.

      1. Ann Nonymous*

        My then 17-year-old was diagnosed with leukemia. Because treatment can cause fertility issues, we, um had him bank his sperm. Taking your teenage son to the sperm bank and waiting for him in the reception area: Most Awkward Day Ever. (He’s fine now.)

    2. RandomusernamebecauseIwasboredwiththelastone*

      Luckily you didn’t slip with the man at work and say what you do to your kids! :)

    3. Utoh!*

      At home I let my husband just do his thing…in public I say something (discreetly). He does not do it all the time, thankfully!

  29. Susan Calvin*

    If I were feeling snarky, I’d offer him the number of my tailor – these pants must fitting *awfully* bad.

  30. Ghost of a Ghost*

    I had seriously considered writing in about a similar situation and I don’t know if I’m relieved or not to finally have a definitive answer that this behavior is indeed Not Normal. I’m personally not bothered by it, and I haven’t noticed the behavior around anyone else, so it isn’t really an issue; but I have been mighty curious. I figured it might be a not so subtle mating signal, like wearing an obnoxious belt buckle to draw gazes to the package, since both our offices tease us as work spouses (different companies). And I don’t think I’ve caught him him with his hand actually down his pants, but it’s still slightly surreal. Like really? You can’t wait two minutes to finish a conversation? Now I’ll be wondering what he’s doing with his hands during phone calls…

    1. pinky*

      I used to date someone who liked to have long phone conversations pacing up and down the hallway with the other hand down his pants. Even if he was at his parents’ house and talking to his grandmother on the phone.

  31. Lady Blerd*

    The vast majority of my colleagues are male, have been so for over 15 years, and yet I’ve only once run into a gentleman who constantly needed to readjust himself, it was widely commented on even by male colleagues but nothing was said to him. But I’m happy for Allison’s suggestions for any future occurrence.

  32. Goya de la Mancha*

    Had a teacher in high school that used to shift his belt back and forth while lecturing. I assume the end goal was the same, but I guess he was told it was a little less vulgar to look at?

    My equipment gets in the way sometimes too, but I don’t stuff my hand down my bra to re-adjust in the middle of a meeting!

  33. Anon Accountant*

    My coworker used to do this all the time. I started saying “how about we talk in a few minutes since you need a few minutes before you’re ready to talk?”

    Our other coworker was more direct. “Man I don’t want to see that!”

  34. Jen*

    I would probably say what I say when I see my 3 year old doing the same thing “do you need to use the restroom?” LOL

  35. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

    “When in Company, put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered. ” -George Washington.

  36. Free now (and forever)*

    I’m now having flashbacks to law school in 1980 when my Bankruptcy and Creditor’s Rights professor would stand with one foot up on a low table at the front of the class and adjust himself. On top of that, he was also racist and sexist. Ewww. Ewww. Ewww.

  37. Lentils*

    Um, does anyone have suggestions about what to do if it’s one of your supervisors, a woman, doing stuff like this? She seems to think nothing of reaching down into her pants to dig out a wedgie not only while sitting at her desk, but WHILE WE ARE CONVERSING. She will also overshare like “oops, wardrobe malfunction, my bike shorts (under her dress/skirt) are riding up.” And she laughs this off like it’s nothing. We’re all being laid off next week so I don’t see the point in raising the issue at this point, but any tips for if this happens in the future?

    1. Close Bracket*

      Say something to her as practice for the next person who does it. Awkward conversations never get less awkward, but with practice, it becomes easier to have them despite the awkwardness.

    2. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      Hard when it’s a boss, but I might go with “it’s a little weird when you do that.”

      Or “some wardrobe malfunctions are more private than others.”

      “I prefer to remain ignorant of what is or is not riding up.”

  38. DianeinTexas*

    I worked with a guy who would do this, and it wasn’t just a quick scratch or nudge. He’d be standing, talking to you about work, and one hand is at his crotch, just really getting in there, you know? Finally, one day I just clapped my hand over my eyes and walked off. He shouted after me, “What? I had an itch.” 100% knowledge of what he was doing, and what I was upset about. Zero shame. Zero acknowledgement that intense handling of ones genitals isn’t done in front of coworkers.

    1. RUKiddingMe*

      “…intense handling of ones genitals isn’t done in front of coworkers.”

      Right? Or in front of anyone else who hasn’t already enthusiastically consented to watching it.

  39. LadyPhoenix*

    I’m just hear for everyone’s hilarious commentary and awkward innuendos.

    I swear, I’m 27… and snickering in my office.

  40. Utoh!*

    I work with a guy who does that, but he reminds me of the three male munchkins in the Lollipop Guild in the Wizard of Oz because it’s quite a “dance” he does. It’s definitely a nervous tic with him, but can be distracting.

  41. Middleageyogi*

    Thank you for your help! The instant addressing hadn’t occurred to me – I kept picturing pulling him for a horribly awkward conversation neither of would recover from easily. Thanks Alison that’s exactly what I needed, I was kind of frozen.

    1. Yes I am a woman
    2. I think he does this with everyone.
    3. Clothing fit might play into it, I think his clothing is fitting differently than it used to and he has mentioned that, great suggestion from someone.
    4. The comments from everyone have been fantastic. I’ve gone to respond, then gotten distracted and come back to even more. You guys are wonderful and for someone mortified this is even happening, I have to thank you for your support. So many thoughtful insights genuinely were helpful.

    As it happened again today, I tried the more casual ‘are you okay’ approach. He suddenly told me he was adjusting his shirt being tucked in and I was happy to go along with this. Either a) he got the hint or b) i’ll keep on asking until he does.

    1. Où est la bibliothèque?*

      I think a mutual pretense that this is a clothing thing is definitely your best option, especially if it continues. “Hey, you’re fixing your pants while you’re talking to me again.”

    2. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

      Call him out – every single time. Whenever, wherever, who ever is there. If you don’t want to go all out on the call out, just insert “private time activity” mid sentence and immediately back to whatever you’re saying.

    3. RUKiddingMe*

      I’m glad you found support here. This is a pretty awesome forum. I am with Under Cover Lady Lawyer…call him out every single time.

      Whatever sentence/statement you feel best using of course (personally “dude stop playing with yourself” is my favorite, but YMMV), but do it every single time. It’s a lot like training a toddler.

      FWIW I just asked the resident male and in his completely non-expert, non-scientific, off-the-cuff opinion, it’s not only inappropriate (insert long story about what his mom said/did to him as a hip hop loving teen here) but a conscious, deliberate, power/dominance thing. So, you know, just FYI to keep in the back of your mind as things unfold…

  42. Random thought*

    I had a coworker who did this and I truly believe it was inadvertent and he wasnt being intentionally gross but I HATED IT SO MUCH and I would have loved for my boss to say something about it. I actually think it happened because he felt comfortable with me, which is great but also please keep it to yourself!

  43. Lady Jay*

    I want to say, as a cis woman who grew up without brothers, this whole thread has been kinda educational. ;) And now I feel wholly vindicated in my long-standing assumption that the female set of walking gear is way more convenient than the male set.

    1. TootsNYC*

      the biggest convenience for men is the ability to pee standing up while mostly attired. Women can often learn to pee standing up, and sometimes to aim, but it’s a lot harder.

      But if your day doesn’t involve a lot of that, then yes, I think this is an area where men have an advantage. (though boobs can be awkward in their own way)

      1. whingedrinking*

        I’ve always thought it must be inconvenient to be unable to become aroused in public without embarrassment, and this was only strengthened on the day I learned sometimes people with penises can get erections when they’re very angry.

  44. Laurelma01*

    Nasty! Would be tempted to put a tube of jock itch in an envelope & place it on his desk / or mailbox. I assume the OP is female. As a woman I find this down right nasty & disrespectful, even if it’s a habit he’s gotten into.

    You could just tell him to come back after he stops playing with himself & washes his hands. I’m wondering if he does this in front of the women only at work; or he’s gotten into a bad habit & has never been called out on it. This is one I would be tempted to go to his manager & let the manager handle it; let them deal with the embarrassment. A co-worker shouldn’t have to address this. Beyond, “What are you doing with your hands? Yeeah! Gross!” That I might be tempted to do.

    I’m surprised in this day and age that someone hasn’t video taped it and taken it to HR.

  45. CandyCorn*

    You guys. I am making my first ever comment here to point out that guys adjust themselves in public ALL THE TIME. Watch any baseball game on TV and just count how many times the players do it, especially when they’re at bat. My husband never noticed before I pointed it out, and now he can’t unsee it. YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO UNSEE IT. I think guys just do this reflexively and subconsciously, not in an attempt to gross you out.

    1. Urdnot Bakara*

      I think adjusting your athletic cup is a bit different than adjusting your cup-free junk in front of coworkers in a professional office setting.

    2. (Different) Rebecca, PhD*

      Just because they do, doesn’t mean they should, and certainly doesn’t mean that it should be considered acceptable at work.

      1. RUKiddingMe*

        This, this, this! I don’t care why they do it. They need to not do it in public. Women somehow manage to not go all out with boob adjustments all the time, males can learn to control themselves as well.

    3. Observer*

      What the others said. Also, since when is what ball players do on the field a reasonable standard for any other environment?

    4. Seeking Second Childhood*

      A related question for the guys.

      My department’s printer is line of sight to the rest rooms. It seems to me like half the guys check their zippers after they exit.

      Why don’t you do that BEFORE?

      1. Seeking Second Childhood*

        (Silly website, that’s NOT where I meant to post this. Sorry y’all, no changing it now.)

    5. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

      They’re not in arm’s reaching distance, Making the eye contact – there’s your difference.

  46. Urdnot Bakara*

    *Screams internally*

    OP, this is so very weird. I’ve never even seen my husband do this in the privacy of our own home. Best of luck to you!

  47. Glomarization, Esq.*

    I … I … I’m a humorless buzzkilling bore over here, but this behavior is so far out of the way of acceptable for me. It’s not cute, it’s not funny, it’s not harmless. Nobody gets to handle their private parts at work, outside of the bathroom. (Blah, blah, what if it’s a sex work workplace blah blah blah.) This needs to be shut down for the aberrant and questionably legal conduct that it is.

  48. Colorado*

    This thread has made acutely aware to how many times I adjust my bra during the workday. Time for new bras I guess :-\

  49. can't believe these are words i'm writing*

    This isn’t an excuse, but it’s possible this could be a medical issue. One of my best male friends has a skin condition that makes the skin round those parts particularly irritable. Whenever he had to adjust himself in front of me/other friends, he would apologize. But also we were 18 and now that it’s 10+ years later, he has found a medication or creme or something that works, because it hasn’t been an issue for years. So… obviously it’s a resolvable medical issue. But that’s probably the most generous interpretation, and even then it’s obviously still something that needs to be changed.

  50. PunkyB*

    There was actually a “Sex in the City” episode about a guy who kept “adjusting” himself in public, and it was weird enough that whatever character was dating him (I can’t remember) broke up with him over it. So no, it is not normal!

    1. Laurelma01*

      It would be embarrassing to be out on a date with a “serial adjuster”. Would be a huge turn off.

  51. No Green No Haze*

    I work in the relatively rowdy live entertainment industry where we have little trouble pointing this out in our peers, who often spend a lot of time traveling uncomfortably. But it honestly doesn’t happen much.

    Oddly, though: a few years ago I was listening to a roadie explain to me how he wanted our system to interface with his, and he was scratching his belly under his too-short T-shirt while making constant eye contact with me. I honestly don’t think he was consciously aware that he was doing it, but it was far more disgusting than I would have thought. So context matters.

  52. Agile Phalanges*

    I used to work with a woman who scratched her crotch (through her clothes) constantly. Publicly. She had psoriasis, and it was visible in more public places, so I assume had it there as well and couldn’t really go to the bathroom EVERY time it bothered her, but it was kind of gross for office behavior. Also a male co-worker who would occasionally scratch/adjust, and since he also had known skin issues (though I didn’t know his actual diagnosis) in more public areas, again, same assumption could be made. I’d say in those instances it’s forgivable, but still gross and they should keep it away from people’s line of sight as much as possible, even if I don’t blame them for not visiting the restroom (especially if it’s a long walk, etc., and involves being away from the desk for a long time just to literally scratch an itch) EVERY time.

    1. rogue axolotl*

      I feel like a good, general rule for the office is to allow your coworkers the soothing fiction that inside everyone’s pants are smooth, featureless expanses while at work.

      1. Under Cover Lady Lawyer*

        I like to think of all the men in my life who aren’t my husband as having molded on underwear like a men doll

  53. Anancy*

    So, until reading this thread, I didn’t realize people thought of this adjustment as so inappropriate. I realize a large percentage of men I’ve known just seem to do this unconsciously. Sure, there are the creepy ones that do it creepy, but the others it’s just a typical movement. It’s not something I love seeing, but until this thread I always thought of it as like picking your nose in public or something. Admittedly, I don’t have those parts and the one person I see very often who does is not someone I’ve ever noticed adjusting, so perhaps it’s been easier for me to brush off.

    Anyway, all the threads today have been most enlightening!

    1. bonkerballs*

      Eh, I’m with you. Personally, I’m far more opposed to people who blow their noses in public than people who find their bodies doing something uncomfortable and fix it in an indiscreet manner.

        1. bonkerballs*

          Apparently not to a lot of people since it happens constantly, but to me there are few things in this world more disgusting than someone sitting next to me blowing snot into a tissue. To me, that’s very definitely something you should excuse yourself to the bathroom for. Especially when people do the blowing and then start digging for gold up there because blowing didn’t get everything out, just dislodged some things.

  54. Fluff*

    Just wondering – any chance he is from a different country? When I was abroad (Sicily and others) this happened all the time – in the store, at the bus stop, guys in jeans, shorts, fancy business attire, dud getting married – really – and it did not seem to be sexual or related to anyone watching – seemed to simply be an adjustment. There was no worry at all for men about moving the boys to whatever side was required. Of course, me being the American visiting it took a bit for me to be able to ignore it (after having several OMG moments). This may also fall into a not-kosher-here area for folks who may come from a different culture. I am definitely in the camp of saying something in the moment. Start nice though because he may not be aware he has a disconcerting habit.

  55. Dlishis18*

    I have a male co-worker who has been doing that for 15 years. One of these days I’m going to ask him if he’s got the crabs! Because I think he’s just itchy.

  56. Argh!*

    Also assuming OP is female. Meeting with a male coworker/colleague/equal there as a witness would give some cover, and the coworker may feel more comfortable about saying something. As a feminist, I cringe that I’m suggesting that, but I think if the situation were reversed, I’d be willing to talk to a woman who is embarrassing a male colleague.

  57. brownstag*

    My friend is a school psychologist and I swear she’s told me that there’s a disorder where a common symptom in males is touching their junk as kind of an unconscious self soothing mechanism. For kids that don’t outgrow it, I thought she said they offer a rubber band around the wrist to fidget with to keep their hands busy. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

    1. School Psych*

      I’m a school psychologist and it sounds familiar to me. Some kids with Autism and Intellectual disabilities will um self-stimulate because they find it soothing and don’t realize it’s socially inappropriate in public. I also wrote a comment below about my student who developed a tic where she touched herself because of a medication issue. It’s possible there’s a legitimate reason he’s doing this. Even kids can be taught replacement behaviors like rubber bands and doing this more discretely though.

  58. WMM*

    Ok, wow, I’ve been wanting to get this off my chest for years because wow- uncomfortable to notice: I had a coworker (grad student in a lab where I worked as an undergrad) whose jeans were all stained a little bit yellow in the crotch area. It was really strange, and I wish it hadn’t been so noticeable, and I even wondered if there was something wrong with ME for seeing it! Just . . . wow. This was 20 years ago, and I still wonder what was going on with him.

  59. Elvira&Elymra*

    I had a classmate who did this in grad school ALL THE TIME, but especially when he was talking in class. He would lean back in his desk as though no one could see what he was doing under the minuscule tabletop and go to town. He was impossible for other reasons, but this is when I started to dislike him pretty intensely.

  60. Anon for this*

    Unfortunately my boss does this constantly, in all types of meetings and regardless of who is in it. I don’t think anyone has ever mentioned it to him, because he’s usually super caring and sensitive on how he treats others. He’s also constantly just unconfortable in his own body.

    The grand boss (owner) has never said anything. The rest of us would never say anything or discuss amongst ourselves, but I’m pretty sure every notices as it’s very frequent.

  61. School Psych*

    Could it be some kind of medical issue? I had a student who was doing this and it turned out to be a motor tic. Adjusting his medication stopped the tic and the constant inappropriate touching. Maybe if you frame it as something he might want to get checked out medically it would be less awkward?

    1. Anon Anon Anon*

      As a professional adult, it’s his responsibility to address medical issues that cause really inappropriate behavior. There could be something going on that’s affecting his judgment (psychiatric condition, substance use, etc). But it’s not the employer’s responsibility to determine that.

      I agree with bringing it up sensitively at first in case it is beyond his control. On the other hand, you have to be sensitive to everyone who has to witness the constant crotch touching. I mean this isn’t exactly harmless. There are reasons people don’t react well to others touching their crotches in front of them.

  62. SarasWhimsy*

    I had a boss once who did this every day. He literally walked out of his closed office to the front of the entire office turned around and adjusted himself in front of his two female employees. Every. Single. Day.


  63. Anon Anon Anon*

    I’m one of the unpopular people who gave the ghosting ex the benefit of the doubt, and I think this guy is out of line and needs to be asked to stop right away. There aren’t many (any?) reasonable explanations for this. If he needs frequent adjustment, he should get better underwear. Or find a job where he wouldn’t be around people. Or something. There is just no excuse. I’d be keeping an eye on him for other signs of creepiness.

  64. Amelia Pond*

    I really don’t buy that they don’t know they’re doing it. If it had only happened once or twice, maybe, but all the time? Don’t believe it. I would also have a lot less tact (making a disgusted face involuntary and saying “Please stop touching your genitals in front of me. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable and is very inappropriate.” or would go immediately to my boss) especially at this point in my life, so I guess it’s good I don’t have coworkers. At least most men that do this try it with their hand in their pocket, to try and be discreet. Gross.

  65. NomAnon*

    I’ve had this happen at work before. The first time was with a manager who would full on stick his hand down his pants and readjust. After admonishing him he explained that “they were sticky.” I honestly don’t know if it was a cultural thing since I was working for a foreign company with a lot of foreign coworkers, but was one of many lovely stories I could tell about my old disfunctional workplace. (Denture repair with a Dremel tool at someone’s desk, the inappropriate HR lady, the boss who threw things, the coworker who was homeless by choice….)
    The other encounter I had was with a sales rep. It was particularly hard to ignore because when he stopped by I was always seated at my desk and at eye level of the adjustment. If you want to get psychoanalytical, I mentioned it to my therapist once and she said that touching that region is something boys tend to do. They’re checking their masculinity. After she said that I found it quite funny and just tried my best to ignore it.

  66. SemiRetired*

    I once told a patron that he couldn’t check out a book until he got his hand out of his pants. I said it was a library rule. In his defense, he was about 3 years old and seemed to need a bathroom.

  67. zipzap*

    In my 27 years of working in an office, I have never once seen any male colleague “adjusting” himself. That seems bizarre that any man would do that while speaking to a female coworker.

  68. cncx*

    i am blown away at these comments- i have a friend who definitely has a tic of adjusting himself but it is over his pants, it’s aggravating but since he isn’t digging it is easier to deal with. I can’t believe the number of people in the comments who have had bosses and colleagues who literally stick their hands down their pants
    Not invalidating anyone at all, i just am wowed that this is so widespread

  69. Lily*

    I had to have this exact conversation, between volunteers, when I was fairly young (and had some really bad backstory with the adjuster). Another woman told me about it and that it grossed her out and asked me to talk to him. So I called him and said “I have a message for you: You need to stop constantly scratching your balls in public. It grosses your female colleagues out.” and he answered “Oh, but I’m fairly in the field “If it itches, scratch it” and “not to be ashamed of one’s own body.”” and I was really shocked and didn’t know what to say to THAT, so I ended up answering “Yeah, but Terrible Boundaries-Crossing Dude does that, too, and constantly so that the move has been named after him. If you don’t want to be associated with him, stop it.” Seemingly it worked?
    (Terrible Boundaries-Crossing Dude has since been removed from the organisation, for the record. Awkward Ball-Scratcher Dud is still there, as far as I know, though I don’t know if he still scratches. I hope not. )

  70. yorkjj*

    I used to work with a young woman who was pretty chesty and would routinely slip her hand into her blouse, and apparently into her bra and adjust herself. This happened on more than one occasion with me. It was awkward to not notice since she also had a habit of wearing low cut and revealing blouses and was attractive.
    This kind of thing is off putting, and distracting when all you want to do is work and get the job done. Properly fitting clothes for both genders are available, but I have no idea how to approach this other than to try really hard to ignore it.

    1. kitryan*

      Not that her behavior was appropriate but as a formerly large chested woman with an otherwise small torso, it’s challenging to actually find non-low cut tops. Due to manufacturers’ sizing and pure topography, tops that were modest on smaller chested people were low cut on me. Unless I went to all crew and turtleneck shirts, which made me feel strangled, that was the way it was.
      After having a reduction, I mentioned to my sister that it was nice to have a *choice* to go low cut or not, she said she’d though it had been on purpose – it was not.

    2. Technical_Kitty*

      It’s funny that you think “properly fitting clothes” are available and accessible for everyone.

      And your reaction to anything she was doing? That’s all you bud. The adjusting in front of people is bad manners, your issues with being distracted by the attractive woman have zero to do with her.

      1. yorkjj*

        I was not distracted by her attractiveness, but by her bad manners in the workplace. This did not occur every time I had to work with her, so we did have a successful, collaborative work interaction most of the time.

  71. Nicole*

    This is why I feel no shame picking wedgies in public. Plenty of balls getting fondled out there, why can’t I free my crack?

  72. Hawk*

    This guy is fun. But my boss regularly walks up to me at my desk and UNDOES HIS PANTS so he can retuck his shirt. While his crotch is only a few inches below eye level. It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

  73. HR Maverick*

    I have an employee who does this constantly, and we seem to think it’s because he’s on the spectrum and it’s a nervous tic. I do try and let any new staff be aware of the issue before they start so they know it’s going to happen and doesn’t freak them out too much. Most are happy I give them a heads up. Not ideal, of course, but the option we have.

    1. Close Bracket*

      If it’s really bc he is on the spectrum, telling him directly that it’s not appropriate to adjust himself publicly at work and that he should wait for a private moment is the best way to handle it. If he needs to fiddle with something as a form of stimming, you can talk about better things for him to do. He is likely to be embarrassed that he has been making people uncomfortable.

      People who are on the spectrum are just as capable of learning behavioral norms as people who are not. They just might need things spelled out that other people don’t need spelled out. Treating him like a broken stair rather than someone who is capable of understanding professional norms is diminishing to him.

      If he’s not on the spectrum, does understand professional norms, and just doesn’t give af, then he deserves to be called out for it in a direct manner.

    2. JohnnyDivine*

      Right, so creating a prejudice in every new employee regarding this “offender” is the better alternative. Seriously?

  74. 0101010*

    I realised someone I knew was doing this (non work) and made a light joke. Much to my embarrassment it forced them to disclose an ongoing medical condition.

    Lesson was: Don’t assume anything – ask them in a way about it so they can feel open to disclose something potentially embarrassing for them. And potentially something they are trying to treat or live with.

  75. Kyle Thomas*

    In my workplace of grown adults we aren’t bothered by this kind of stuff since we all have to be there All Day Every Day. Balls, bras, underwear — we all adjust something, because “going to the bathroom” leaves us a man or woman short. Genitials are not intrinsically sexual.

  76. ComputerD00D*

    That is so gauche. I’m mean, I’m a CIS-gendered male, so I understand that sometimes it is a necessity…but that is when you duck into a private office or a bathroom. If it happens in a meeting, you put up with it until you can get someplace private.

  77. G Sido*

    This is psychological intimidation, unfortuneately accepted in some countries. It is sexual abuse of you, in no uncertain terms and not for you to handle, but for the appropriate people in the company who handle that. At the very least your boss.
    It is sad to see how many of the responses here accept and take for granted that it is your problem, which it is not. It is his, and he should not be working in any environment until he , as they say, gets a handle , on his problem and stops it, period. Sexual harassment, especially such obvious examples of it, have no place in your work place.

    I would also demand from your work compensation a few sessions of therapeutic support to be sure that you have handled whetever this is bringing up for you that you see now or not, as tha backlash later can affest your health, physical and mental. You deserve safety in your work place and respect for your space to do yoru work and follow your choices, not sexual and personal harassment. Period.

  78. JohnnyDivine*

    As the state of women’s dress deteriorates all throughout Western Civilization, the most common refrain I hear is “why are you looking?” I would suggest that the issue is squarely in her own head, and she needs to simply stop looking.

  79. Frankwhite8536*

    He should stop adjusting himself as soon as women with babies don’t breastfeed in public. My gonads stick to my leg and if I need to adjust them, you’re right i’m going to do it to be comfortable.

    I don’ t like the double standard here.

    1. Are You Kidding*

      Your balls sticking to your leg is equal in importance and urgency to a newborn baby needing to be fed? That is the argument you’ve decided to make today? My friend, I don’t think you’re going to find much support here for that unbelievably false equivalency.

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