Friday, December 10, 2004

A load of balls?

'Laptops may reduce male fertility' says BBC News, reporting a study from New York which shows that working with a computer on your lap for hours on end can increase scrotal temperature by up to 2.8 degrees celsius. Testicles produce sperm more effectively when at a slightly lower temperature than the rest of the body, and the theory goes that increasing scrotal temperature reduces sperm production. Yefim Sheynkin, who led the research, told the UK Guardian that heavy laptop use 'may cause irreversible or partially reversible changes in male reproductive function'.

This is a pilot study that doesn't actually measure sperm production. Instead, it simply measures scrotal temperature after a period of using a laptop. So whether there is any real effect is speculation.

What is clear is that the laptops played only a minor role in the temperature increase. According to the study, simply sitting with legs together, a sometimes-necessary position to balance a laptop, accounted for the majority of the temperature rise. Thus, the effect only applies where you actually have the computer on your lap - using a laptop in any other situation would be fine.

Nor does a mere rise in temperature proclude sperm production. If it did, how on Earth would residents of hot countries have managed to produce families? It is all a matter of degree, as it were.

As Paul Turek, a fertility specialist at University of California, told New Scientist, any effect is likely to be subtle. 'I live near Silicon Valley. If this was having a pervasive effect, I'm sure we would have noticed it here.'

The wide reporting of this study shows how big an issue fertility has become, as if modern society is insidiously emasculating Western men. The same discussion takes place over everything from plastics to air fresheners. However, since previous reports suggest that regular ejaculation improves sperm production, we can take comfort from the fact that one of the major uses of laptop computers is to surf internet porn.

Laptops may damage male fertility, BBC News, 9 December 2004

Attention all men: using a laptop may, ahem, heat your testicles and cause infertility, Guardian, 9 December 2004

First published on spiked's Don't panic page.