We know that environmental pollutants can lead to cancer, heart disease, and brain damage, but now one scientist is linking them to shrinking penises.
Yep, you read that right. In her new book Count Down, reproductive epidemiologist Shanna Swan, Ph.D., argues that the downsizing of one particular male organ can be connected to everyday chemicals. If that’s not sobering enough for you, the book’s subtitle is How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
If Swan’s name sounds familiar, it may be due to the 2017 study she helped conduct that found that, in Western countries, men’s sperm counts have dropped by more than half over nearly 40 years.
What’s to blame for shrinking penises
In the case of penises getting smaller, Count Down puts the blame on a group of chemicals known as phthalates.
Phthalates can be found in plastic, vinyl, floor and wall coverings, medical devices, and toys. They’re also an ingredient in hair sprays, soaps, and shampoos. You may have used a product with phthalates in the shower this morning.
According to research, exposure to high concentrates of phthalates in mothers can alter male reproductive development in infants. Early data suggest that men whose mothers were exposed to high levels of phthalates have reduced testicular volume, which associates with lower testicular function.
“It’s an unfortunate cluster of effects, from multiple perspectives,” Swan writes in the book.
In addition, young men with high levels of metabolized phthalates have poorer sperm mobility and form. They’re also at risk for sperm apoptosis, which is another way of saying sperm suicide.
Swan writing that “It’s safe to assume that no man wants to hear that his sperm are self-destructing,” may be, at least, one of the understatements of the decade.
Phthalates are not only bad for men, as high levels of exposure are equally as harmful to women. Premature ovarian failure, hormonal disorders, and early menopause are just some of the effects on women.
What happens next
Swan says that she wrote the book to illustrate the harmful effects of chemical exposure. At the moment, some companies have voluntarily phased out use of phthalates, while the European Union is planning to do so in the future. Currently, the U.S. has no plans to regulate the chemicals.
While Count Down came out recently, some are suggesting that it might lead more people, especially men, to action. Linking to an article on the book, climate activist Greta Thunberg tweeted “See you all at the next climate strike:)”