Sperm Count Zero

Daniel Noah Halpern for GQ writes:

A strange thing has happened to men over the past few decades: We’ve become increasingly infertile, so much so that within a generation we may lose the ability to reproduce entirely.

I met Anna-Maria Andersson, a biologist whose research has focused on declining testosterone levels. “There has been a chemical revolution going on starting from the beginning of the 19th century, maybe even a bit before,” she told me, “and upwards and exploding after the Second World War, when hundreds of new chemicals came onto the market within a very short time frame.”

When a chemical affects your hormones, it’s called an endocrine disruptor. And it turns out that many of the compounds used to make plastic soft and flexible (like phthalates) or to make them harder and stronger (like Bisphenol A, or BPA) are consummate endocrine disruptors. Phthalates and BPA, for example, mimic estrogen in the bloodstream. If you’re a man with a lot of phthalates in his system, you’ll produce less testosterone and fewer sperm. If exposed to phthalates in utero, a male fetus’s reproductive system itself will be altered: He will develop to be less male.

What’s more, there is evidence that the effect of these endocrine disruptors increases over generations, due to something called epigenetic inheritance.

When I spoke with Marc Goldstein, a urologist and surgeon at Weill Cornell medical center in New York City, he said that while there was “no question I’ve seen a big increase in men with male-factor infertility,” he wasn’t worried for the future of the species. Assisted reproduction would keep the babies coming, no matter how sickly men’s sperm become.

Not long ago, I spoke with Chris Wohl, a research materials/surface engineer at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia, who spent six years trying to conceive a child. . . . Finally, with the surrogate, the process worked. He and his wife now have a healthy, strong-willed 4-year-old girl.

So perhaps that’s the solution: As long as we hover somewhere above Sperm Count Zero, and with an assist from modern medicine, we have a shot. Men will continue to be essential to the survival of the species. The problem with innovation, though, is that it never stops. A new technology known as IVG—in vitro gametogenesis—is showing early promise at turning embryonic stem cells into sperm. In 2016, Japanese scientists created baby mice by fertilizing normal mouse eggs with sperm created via IVG. The stem cells in question were taken from female mice. There was no need for any males.

Quote from Handsmaid Tale:

There is no such thing as a sterile man anymore, not officially. There are only women who are fruitful and women who are barren, that’s the law.

https://www.gq.com/story/sperm-count-zero

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