By now, we all know that humans have done a fair bit to fuck up our planet. Pollution—that big bad wolf that is the result of many of our activities—has messed up not just our lives but that of other creatures we share this planet with too. It’s damaged polar bears’ dicks and given “limp” penises to otters. Now though, completing the circle of life itself, it’s coming for human erections too.
A much-discussed new book by Dr Shanna H. Swan—a renowned environmental and reproductive epidemiologist—ties the use of industrial chemicals in everyday products to smaller penises, lower sperm counts and erectile dysfunction. The wordy title and subtitle of the book itself sounds like a warning bell we can’t afford to ignore: Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.
In 2017, Swan co-authored a study that found sperm counts had plummeted in the West by 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. In her new book, Swan explores how a low sperm count, low fertility rates, and penis shrinkage is tied to a common culprit: chemicals. “Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,” she writes in her new book. Swan also shared her findings on fertility rates. “In some parts of the world, the average twentysomething woman today is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35.” She also added that a man might have half the sperm count of his grandfather.
Swan’s latest research also states that pollutants and chemicals are decreasing semen quality and leading to the shrinking penis size and volume of testes. Swan calls this a “global existential crisis” and warns that this could threaten human survival itself. “The current state of reproductive affairs can’t continue much longer without threatening human survival,” she writes. “Of five possible criteria for what makes a species endangered, only one needs to be met; the current state of affairs for humans meets at least three.”
Swan’s research also found that exposure to phthalates, chemicals found commonly in plastics and toys, at the end of the first trimester in the womb, led to a shorter anogenital distance (AGD) “Nobody is going to like that term, so you could use taint or gooch instead,” she told The Intercept, though not like we’re gonna be using her suggested alternative words anytime soon either. “But basically it’s the distance between the anus and the beginning of the genitals. And scientists have recognized its importance for a long time. I have a paper from 1912 that looks at AGD and showed that they were nearly 100 percent longer in males than in females. Our work has shown that chemicals, including the diethylhexyl phthalate, shorten the AGD in males.”
In her column for The Guardian, environmental activist Erin Brockovich discusses the book too and points out the exposure to “forever chemicals” and how they are found commonly in electronics, plastics, food wrapping, and cleaning products. “Some of them, called PFAS, are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down in the environment or the human body. They just accumulate and accumulate – doing more and more damage, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Now, it seems, humanity is reaching a breaking point.”
If you thought this was bad news, we have some more. Chemicals and pollutants can also impact one’s libido. “Yes, we found a relationship between women’s phthalate levels and their sexual satisfaction,” Swan told The Intercept. “And researchers in China found that workers with higher levels of bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, in their blood were more likely to have sexual problems, including decreased desire.”
According to Swan’s research, BPA, phthalate, parabens, and atrazine are the main culprits behind decreasing libido and fertility. These chemicals are found commonly in plastics, herbicides, toothpaste, and beauty products and act as endocrine disruptors which leads to premature birth, lower IQs, obesity and, according to Swan’s research, smaller penis size. It might be hard to avoid these chemicals since they are often not on labels and are commonly found on plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, canned foods and even ATM receipts.
A 2018 study by Melbourne scientists confirmed chemicals in plastics are leading to genital defects in male babies. This year, researchers from France’s national public health agency found that young boys who lived in polluted regions where coal mining used to take place were twice as likely to have one descended testicle and five times likely to have two undescended testicles.
Swan warns that reduced fertility and toxic chemicals can impact future generations badly. “If you’re pregnant, and you’re carrying a boy, the chemicals you’re exposed to can pass to him through the placenta. So the germ cells that will create his children are already affected. Plus that boy is exposed to chemicals again as an adult. It’s a two-hit model,” she said. “That’s why we have this continuing decline in fertility and sperm quality. If we didn’t have a hit from our parents and our grandparents, then each generation would just start all over again. It would be bad, but the impact would be at the same level each time. The fact that we carry with us the problems of the past generations means that we’re starting at a lower level and getting hit again and again and again.”
So, are we doomed to see future generations grow up with smaller and smaller schlongs, or is there anything we can do? According to Swan, buying organic produce and using less plastic in our everyday life will help eliminate chemicals from our lives. She even advises eating home-cooked meals rather than eating out since food packages and gloves used by restaurant workers transfer phthalates into your food, which then enter your body.
If not for the environment then, it’s time to fight pollution for the sake of protecting your dong and the human civilisation. As Swan writes, “[We must] do what we can to safeguard our fertility, the fate of mankind, and the planet.”