Our mistreatment of the planet might soon hit us where it really hurts. In a new book, one scientist argues that chemical pollution is having a profound effect on human sexual development, from shrinking penises to shocking declines in female fertility.
As Greta Thunberg astutely pointed out in a tweet, perhaps shrinking genitals might be the push humanity needs to take serious action to protect the world’s environments.
The claim comes from a new book by Dr Shanna H. Swan, a leading environmental and reproductive epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, titled: Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
Along with highlighting the many ways in which 21st-century living is damaging our health, the book particularly focuses on how chemicals in the modern environment are profoundly changing human sexuality and fertility.
In 2017, Swan was part of a study that found sperm levels among men in some Western countries had dropped by more than 50 percent in just four decades. There were a bunch of explanations behind this trend, but Swan was especially interested in the way chemicals in our environment were affecting sexual health.
Much of the concern relates to phthalates, a prolific group of chemicals used in hundreds of consumer products, from toys and food packaging to hair sprays and paints. Phthalates are what’s known as an endocrine-disrupting compound, meaning they can interfere with hormone systems. Through this disruption, it’s thought that exposure to phthalates, as well as other endocrine disruptors, is the chief reason behind diminished sperm count and deteriorated sperm quality.
They have also been linked to a higher incidence of malformations of the genitals. Speaking to the Intercept, Swan explains that her research revealed that exposure to phthalates at the end of the first trimester in the womb was linked to human babies being born with a shorter anogenital distance (that’s basically the distance between the anus and the beginning of the genitals, aka the gooch).
Not everyone is concerned by this threat. Some have previously argued that the panic surrounding endocrine disruptors may be overstated and the fears are overblown. Certainly, some of the links are tentative, Swan says, but a wealth of evidence is suggesting that the chemicals are linked to a host of changes in sexual activity, from the demasculinization of Wild Cane Toads to a lack of interest in sex (in humans, not toads).
Dwindling penises are not the chief concern, though. Swan argues that the increased exposure to these chemicals could have repercussions around the world in regards to fertility and sexual development, potentially even threatening the future of humanity.
To avoid this fate, she argues that societies need to distance themselves from these chemicals and start cutting their use immediately.