Pollution isn’t just a threat to the environment, it is also endangering a man’s most private parts.
Industrial chemicals found in dozens of household products are leading to smaller penises, lower sperm counts and even tinier perineums among men, environmental epidemiologist Dr. Shanna Swann warns.
Chemicals like phthalates, which are found in everything from toys to pharmaceuticals, ‘are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,’ Swann writes in her new book, Count Down.
Pollution has also been identified as a risk to women, as the proliferation of ‘forever chemicals’ in modern life is leading to both lower libidos and less fertility among females.
Phthalates, chemicals used to provide elasticity and transparency in everything from toys to beauty products to vinyl flooring, are leading to generations of men with smaller penises and lower sperm counts
Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine, has spent nearly a quarter-century examining pollution’s impact on human health, especially the endocrine system.
Her new 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, dives into the links between common industrial chemicals and decreased fertility, low sperm counts, erectile dysfunction, genital birth defects, and, yes, smaller penises.
‘Chemicals in our environment and unhealthy lifestyle practices in our modern world are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc,’ Swan writes.
She points to numerous pollutants including BPA, parabens, and atrazine, with a particular focus on phthalates, which are used to give products more flexibility, transparency and durability.
Phthalates, which can also be passed from mother to child in the womb, led to male children with shorter perineums, the space between the anus and the genitals
They’re found in cosmetics, detergents, toys, vinyl flooring, and a host of other products.
But, says Swan, phthalates play havoc with the human endocrine system.
Initially, her research looked at their effect on rats, but she’s since found evidence the chemicals can be passed from mother to child in the womb.
Then that child grows up and is exposed to the chemicals in their own lifetime.
‘It’s a two-hit model,’ Swan told The Intercept. ‘Or, for subsequent generations, a three-hit or four-hit model. ‘
Her research even found exposure to phthalates at the end of the first trimester led to male babies born with a shorter anogenital distance (AGD), or perineum—essentially the distance between the genitals and the anus.
And previous research has tied exposure to certain chemicals — including pesticides and phthalates — to undescended testicles.
Epidemiologists in France investigating cryptorchidism, when one or both testicles have not descended, found the condition occurring in clusters in areas where coal-mining was once a major industry.
In her new book ‘Count Down,’ Dr. Shanna Swan (pictured) warns that chemicals in our environment ‘are disrupting our hormonal balance, causing various degrees of reproductive havoc’
Boys in those regions were twice as likely to have one undescended testicle and five times as likely to have two.
Cryptorchidism can correct itself within the first year of life, but if it doesn’t it can lead to decreased fertility and increased cancer risk.
It’s hard to avoid these ‘forever chemicals’ because they are practically everywhere – from toothpaste to canned food – and are rarely labeled.
And they threaten fertility in both men and women, Swan says: A study she authored in 2017 found sperm counts in men in the West dropped nearly 60 percent between 1973 and 2011.
In some parts of the world, she writes in Count Down, a typical twentysomething woman is less fertile than her grandmother was at 35.
But it’s not just about reproduction: Phthalates have been linked to low sex drive in women.
‘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.’
Beyond our reproductive systems, these pollutants have also been linked to premature birth, lower IQs, obesity and other negative health outcomes.
The situation has grown into an existential crisis for the human race, Swan warns.
‘Of five possible criteria for what makes a species endangered, only one needs to be met,’ she writes. ‘The current state of affairs for humans meets at least three.’