Preface: Final comments on declining sperm
I finished my recent blog on sperm decline and related reproductive horror stories by coming to the strange conclusion that the “end of men” could be in sight but no one is screaming.
The question is why? Very briefly, I want to suggest several reasons. One is that there have been negative studies as well as positive ones, and with that there have been (much like global warming) believers and deniers. In 2008 a study was published entitled Declining World Wide Sperm Counts: Disproving a Myth.* The author had found more studies finding no change than those showing a decline and concluded that “The evidence accumulated to date showing no decline in sperm counts or sperm concentration in populations through the developed world should be accepted.” No real explanation for the positive findings was given. He also totally rejected all evidence for endocrine disruptor theories (plasticizers, pesticides, etc) as supporting human or animal effects on sperm count and advised that “this leg of supposed evidence for proposed legislation is weak to the point of breaking.”
From that point on to 2011, other skeptical articles appeared including one in a New York Times column, but the 2012 study from France that I reported earlier has tipped the balance strongly back to sperm decline.** This research involved over 26,000 men over a period of 17years (1989 to 2005) whose partners had fallopian tube problems and were being tested in government reproductive centers throughout France (126 different centers). Data were collected in this circumstance for 17 years from 1989 to 2005 under very careful conditions. The trend showed a continuous decline of approximately 1.9% per year for a total drop of 32% over this period. It is a truly impressive study.
France already has a fertility rate that is slightly below human replacement level, as does much of Europe. If the 2012 study is accurate, and the decline continues at 1.9% per year the Frenchman’s average sperm count should be approaching the sub-fertility level of 20 million in 45 years..
So, once more, why isn’t anybody screaming? The fact that contradictory findings have appeared is no doubt part of this. It is hard to get upset about a potentially terrible, but unclear danger, and human to push it aside, mentally. That is part of it, but still, assuming this may be global or even just in the Western world–shouldn’t we be organizing a massive international program to get to the bottom of this? Shouldn’t we be examining all the flaws in any past studies and trying to do very up-to-date, coordinated, world-wide research? Now? With all possible speed?
Uncertainty is one problem here and if the environmental toxin theory is correct, there are also very serious problems ahead for both manufacturers and users of industrial chemicals and pesticides, but I wonder if there is something more to this. Is there a male branding problem here? How many years can you describe testosterone as a social toxin without seriously disparaging its carriers? This may be made worse by the fact that the men studied are those from highly developed Western countries–Great Britain, the Scandinavian countries, much of central Europe, the United States, and Australia. Are people consciously or unconsciously pushing it aside as a problem of economically comfortable, mostly white males (and their partners) who are not one of the populations of concern in the world?
That opens up a broader thought–could all these male problems–declining sperm, shrinking penises, and dropping testosterone levels–perhaps even dropping achievements in education and the world of work–be at some level the reflection of society’s rejection of maleness? This is not to disparage the endocrine disruptor findings, but rather to ask if there may also be a cultural cause?
Has something really happened to the male brand? Continue reading