Balls. Nuts. Cojones. Nads. Boys. Bollocks. Dangly bits. Rocks. Stones. Family jewels.
Call them what you want, there are few relationships more sacred than the one between a man and his set. You’d go to any length to keep your goodies in tip-top shape, and over the years, you’ve heard heaps of rumours about how to do it.
You may also have heard that, over the last four decades, men’s sperm counts have been declining. More and more guys are meeting the criteria for poor fertility, and difficulty conceiving is only one possible side effect. Low sperm count has also been linked to disease and even premature death.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect your paddlers from modern life’s assault on manhood. Today we separate fact from fiction from fearmongering, and reveal the naked truth about infertility. These 10 unassuming everyday habits may secretly be sapping your sperm count – science says so.
Wearing The Wrong Underwear
David Beckham may look great in junk-hugging designer briefs, but regular wearing of tighty-whities could cause a lower sperm count. The theory goes like this: constricting briefs hold your scrotum close to your body, reducing air circulation and causing your testicles to warm up beyond their usual temperature. This creates a hostile environment for sperm production.
A study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development tracked the underwear choices and sperm quality of 500 men for up to one year and found that those who wore boxers during the day and slept naked had 25% less damage to the DNA in their sperm, compared to those who wore briefs day and night.
Bicycle shorts and skinny jeans may have the same effect, some experts warn, while others say the difference between boxers and briefs is statistically insignificant when it comes to sperm count. If you’re the “better safe than sorry” type, it might be time to get fitted for a kilt.
Skipping The Gym
Sloppy bod, sluggish swimmers. A study published in the International Journal of Andrology found that men with a BMI of 30 or higher had lower volumes of semen, lower sperm counts, lower sperm concentration, lower sperm motility, and greater sperm defects than men at a healthier weight.
Obesity can disrupt hormone levels, say experts, causing fertility issues by throwing the body’s ratio of testosterone and oestrogen out of whack. Extra weight may also decrease sperm quality by overheating the testicles due to fat deposits in the surrounding area.
But this is not a call to become a gym rat or try Christian Bale‘s Machinist diet. Excessive exercise can cause a decline in testosterone levels, and men who are underweight can also struggle with an abnormally low sperm count and poor sperm function.
Feeling Hot, Hot, Hot
Love a hot tub soak and a steam in a sauna? You may want to cut back on both if you’re in baby mode. Anything that raises the temperature of your twin cherries can have a temporary impact on sperm production (you may have noticed a theme here), and the negative effects can last for months.
There’s a reason your danglers hang outside the body. For optimal sperm production, the testicles should be two degrees lower than the core body temperature. Thanks to their precarious suspended position, they keep cool regardless of the fluctuations in your core body climate.
Fortunately, the side effects of overheating aren’t permanent, and once the pregnancy test comes up positive, you’re cleared to return to your regularly scheduled hot yoga class.
Watching Too Much TV
Netflix and chill? Not if you’re trying to conceive. Skip the Breaking Bad binge if you’re hoping for a little Walt or Skyler of your own.
Recent research from Denmark suggests that watching too much television can put you at risk of infertility. In the study, participants who logged 5 or more hours of screen time per day had 29% lower sperm concentration and 34% lower sperm counts than men who didn’t watch any TV.
Researchers offered a variety of theories for why this is the case, ranging from the bulky physique of a serial couch potato, to a lack of antioxidant enzymes caused by inactivity, to – you guessed it – an increase in scrotum temperature from all that stillness and sitting.
Succumbing To Stress
Being under pressure is only cool when David Bowie sings about it. The rest of the time, stress can take a toll on your reproductive potential in several ways. First, stress triggers the release of your “fight or flight” hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can inhibit the production of testosterone and, in turn, can lower the quantity and quality of sperm.
Stress can also interfere with libido and lessen the desire to have sex in the first place, and can trigger other behaviours associated with infertility like eating more junk food, taking more medications, getting sick more often, and exercising less frequently.
A Disrupted Sleep Schedule
Want to increase your sperm’s health by doing absolutely nothing? You’re in luck: experts say getting between seven and seven and a half hours of sleep each night is the perfect catalyst for healthy swimmers.
Fall on either extreme end of the spectrum and your little baby-making buddies will suffer. Sleep deprivation, defined as six and a half hours or less per night, can make your sperm 30% less healthy. Go over nine hours of sleep a day and your sperm’s health rating drops even more significantly, by an unsettling 41%.
Our old friend overheating is back once again. Some experts believe using a laptop in your lap could generate excess heat in the genital region. Others say the effect is negligible, but to be safe, you may want to stick to desks and tables (it’s better for your posture anyway).
And about that omnipresent smartphone… we know it’s essential to be able to swipe right or double tap at any time, but you may want to reconsider where you store your mobile. A 2014 British review of 10 studies concluded that radiation emitted from phones could affect sperm development, function, and viability. Skip pants pockets as cell storage, particularly the front ones, to limit your exposure.
Overconsumption Of Caffeine Or Soy
Need another reason to clean up your diet? In addition to keeping you in your skinny jeans, healthy eating patterns keep your foetal matter fighting fit. Top offenders include a high soda or coffee intake, too much soy, and overdoing it on the trans-fatty acids in junk food.
A Danish study found that excessive caffeine intake – whether from soda, coffee, or energy drinks – resulted in sperm counts almost 30% lower than men who indulged responsibly. A study at Harvard concluded that men who eat large quantities of soy-based foods produce 32% less sperm per millilitre than men who consume no soy-based foods. A third study discovered a link between high concentrations of trans-fatty acids and drastically lower sperm counts.
Aim to eat a diet high in antioxidants to increase both sperm count and motility, and get plenty of folic acid and vitamin D.
Environmental toxins like pesticides, heavy metals, radiation, and other industrial chemicals do a number on your member. While it seems obvious to avoid the most serious offenders, others fly dangerously under the radar.
Beware of plastic bottles and food containers that may contain BPA, an “environmental oestrogen” that can disrupt the delicate balance of your hormones. BPA can lower sperm counts and motility, according to a study in Reproductive Toxicology, which found that men who are exposed to large quantities have sperm counts about 23% lower than men with no BPA exposure.
BPA can also be be found in canned foods, many of which are coated with BPA resin that can leach the chemical into the food. Acidic canned foods are especially risky.
Partying Too Hard
Be honest with us: this one isn’t really a surprise, is it? When you’re smoking enough for Rogen and Franco both, and tossing back bottles like Johnny Depp, a part of you knows you’re not making the healthiest choice for yourself or your baby batter.
Excessive alcohol, excessive smoking (of any kind), and excessive opiates use – whether prescribed or illicit – can all have a negative effect on the production of sperm and testosterone. Taking anabolic steroids can also cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease.
Kick the butts, can the beer, and clean up your act. You’re about to become a dad, after all.