The Question Why are men’s sperm counts plunging?
Men can take the blame for many of the ills of this world: wars, domestic violence, golf, progressive rock music. This week, however, we woke up to the news that the human race is in immediate danger of extinction – and it’s all our fault.
Male sperm counts in the western world have declined by half in the past 40 years, according to new research, and if the trend continues we’ll soon no longer be able to procreate, and our species will die out. That’s right: half of the time we’re shooting blanks, and now the end is nigh.
The study, by a team of researchers in the US, Brazil, Denmark, Israel and Spain, has found that between 1973 and 2011 the concentration of sperm in the western men’s ejaculate has been shrinking by about 1.4 per cent a year. In 1973 the average sperm concentration was 99 million per millilitre; in 2011 it was 47.1 million/ml – a drop of 52.4 per cent.
The research, published in the journal Human Reproduction Update, found the decline was worst among men from the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
So what are the causes of this shocking slump in sperm counts, and is there any way men can get their mojos back? Factors such as smoking and obesity, not to mention exposure to pesticides and other chemicals, have already been implicated in the decline of sperm quality, and the stress of modern living has also taken its toll. Could we be reaping the whirlwind of our blokey, smoky, karaoke lifestyles? Or were our mammies exposed to too many household chemicals while cleaning up after us?
Some of the studies from which the data has been gathered have been criticised for not accounting for confounding factors, including age and sexual activity. And very few studies have been done outside the West.
According to the lead author of the study, Hagai Levine of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the low sperm counts could be the “canary in the coal mine” that indicates a wider men’s-health issue. “This is a classic under-the-radar huge public-health problem that is really neglected.”