Plummeting sperm counts have been the focus of scientific study for a few years now, coinciding with the rise of cis male infertility. In a new report from GQ, journalist Daniel Noah Halpern spoke to a handful of epidemiologists, endocrinologists, biologists and various researches about the decline in sperm, and what it means for the future of humanity. Dun-dun.
Trudge through the “men will go extinct and are taking humanity with them” paranoia, and the article does a decent job explaining what the fuck is happening to those swimmers. Essentially: they’re producing half of the semen, sperm, and testosterone that men produced in not-so-distant past. It reads:
“...Sperm counts per milliliter of semen down by more than 50 percent since 1973, but total sperm counts were down by almost 60 percent: We are producing less semen, and that semen has fewer sperm cells in it...
Testosterone levels have also dropped precipitously, with effects beginning in utero and extending into adulthood. One of the most significant markers of an organism’s sex is something called anogenital distance (AGD)—the measurement between the anus and the genitals. Male AGD is typically twice the length of female, a much more dramatic difference than height or weight or musculature. Lower testosterone leads to a shorter AGD, and a measurement lower than the median correlates to a man being seven times as likely to be subfertile and gives him a greater likelihood of having undescended testicles, testicular tumors, and a smaller penis...Men are producing less sperm. They’re also becoming less male.”
That last bit is a stretch—it’s pretty lazy to equate “maleness” with testosterone production—but the rest of the text serves to clarify that declining sperm counts are caused by a variety of factors. We’re seeing biological effects from utero, so there’s a hereditary transfer: low sperm count from parent to child, and environmental causes, what scientists call “endocrine disruptor,” chemical compounds that exist in, like, everything:
“It turns out that many of the compounds used to make plastic soft and flexible (like phthalates) or to make them harder and stronger (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) are consummate endocrine disruptors. Phthalates and BPA, for example, mimic estrogen in the bloodstream. If you’re a man with a lot of phthalates in his system, you’ll produce less testosterone and fewer sperm. If exposed to phthalates in utero, a male fetus’s reproductive system itself will be altered: He will develop to be less male.
Women with raised levels of phthalates in their urine during pregnancy were significantly more likely to have sons with shorter anogenital distance as well as shorter penis length and smaller testes. “When the [fetus’s] testicles start making testosterone, which is about week eight of pregnancy, they make a little less,” Swan said. “That’s the nub of this whole story. So phthalates decrease testosterone. The testicles then do not produce proper testosterone, and the anogenital distance is shorter.”
Those chemicals—phthalates, BPA—are found in water bottles, food containers, sales receipts, gelling agents, lubricants, binders, emulsifying agents, suspending agents, the coating of pills and nutritional supplements, medical devices, detergents, packaging, paint, modeling clay, pharmaceuticals, textiles, sex toys, nail polish, liquid soap, hair spray and food, to name a few from the article. The effect of these endocrine disruptors increase over time and by generation, thus resulting in less sperm and testosterone, quicker.
So is male extinction (and eventually, human extinction) a probability? Probably not. I anticipate we’ll get smarter with safe, environmental-friendly products in the future, if only because sperm and literal dick size (see the bolded above) depends on it.
Read the full article here.