If you need a smaller-scale visual of the climate crisis, envision a family setting their own home on fire, and ignoring the flames around them. That’s essentially what humans are doing — by using destructive chemicals and pollutants, we're hurting our own species, and going about business like nothing’s wrong. Unfortunately, recent research has found that this behavior has reached some of the most sensitive facets of human life — toxic chemicals are affecting human fertility, sperm count, sexual satisfaction and desire, and even penis size.
Is this something we should be worried about? Keep reading to learn all about how "forever chemicals" are affecting humanity by potentially preventing us from furthering the human race.
Is pollution affecting fertility?
In February 2021, Shanna H. Swan released her book Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race. The book is a followup to her 2017 study, which primarily focused on declining sperm counts (more on that below).
In her new book, Swan points out the link between humanity’s increased use of hormone-disrupting chemicals and a variety of fertility issues, as reported by Vice. Basically, our use of these chemicals is hurting our fertility in a myriad of ways.
Is pollution affecting female fertility?
In terms of female fertility, in her 2017 study, Swan found that globally, female fertility rates have plummeted from 5.06 births per woman to less than 2.1. Of course, this could also have to do with other factors, such as increased access to birth control.
And as Swan told The Intercept, studies have observed a link between women’s phthalate levels and BPA blood concentration with sexual satisfaction and desire. And, as a side note, other studies have shown a relation between gas flaring at oil drilling sites and various adverse birth outcomes for mothers.
How does pollution affect male fertility? Apparently, it’s causing more ED and smaller penis sizes.
While the conversation surrounding pollution’s effect on fertility is often had in relation to women, Swan has found alarming evidence of pollution hurting men’s fertility — and other related factors.
For one thing, Swan has observed reduced sperm counts in males — by about 59 percent; plus, the average man today has about half the number of sperm his grandfather had. She has also observed more cases of erectile dysfunction and smaller penis sizes. Sure, that last one may not necessarily directly affect fertility, but it sure is enough to make many men finally pay attention to the climate crisis.
OK, so how exactly are toxic chemicals affecting fertility?
Environmental activist Erin Brockovich, known widely for the eponymous movie made about her life starring Julia Roberts, recently wrote a piece breaking down this issue for The Guardian.
Deeply impacted by Swan’s book, Brockovich explained how “forever chemicals” such as PFAS and phthalates are found in a variety of things that many humans use on a daily basis, such as plastic food packaging, synthetic fragrance (found in cleaning products, personal care products, and even feminine hygiene products), makeup, waterproof clothing, and electronics.
These chemicals can be found in pretty much anything that contains any synthetic ingredients or chemicals. As Rachel Carson uncovered in her 1962 book Silent Spring, many toxic chemicals do not break down in the environment — and similarly, these chemicals often do not break down in our bodies. “They just accumulate and accumulate – doing more and more damage, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day,” Brockovich wrote for The Guardian.
Basically, the supposedly innocent activities we are carrying out every day — cleaning our bodies and our homes, applying makeup, eating packaged foods, and so much more — are affecting both male and female fertility, which means human population growth rates could slow down significantly in the near future. While some environmentalists may argue that humans need to slow down population growth to fight overpopulation, there’s no environmentalist on Earth who would think that the above findings are good.
There are many things humans can do to reduce their exposure to forever chemicals — for example, we can eat more home-cooked meals made with organic produce and ingredients that aren’t packaged in plastic; buy cleaning and personal care products that are free of these chemicals; and opt for natural items over plastic whenever possible. And of course, if fertility is a concern for you, please speak with a medical professional.