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What is the role of the smartphone in the decline in male fertility? On the occasion of Cell Phone Free Day this February 6, it seems interesting to question the omnipresence of our cell phones on health. Is leaving it in the pocket so bad?
On January 16, President Emmanuel Macron described infertility as a scourge affecting one in ten couples in France. Among men in industrialized countries, sperm concentration would have decreased by more than 50% between 1973 and 2011. A decline linked in part to our lifestyles (smoking, unbalanced diet, pollution, etc.) which also raises the question of smartphones, the one that we slip into our pocket for long hours, very close to the lower abdomen. A recent study that we talked about last November indicated precisely the harmful impact that this phone could have.
Those who use their phones the most have the fewest sperm
The study in question was based on data from 2,886 Swiss men aged 18 to 22, recruited between 2005 and 2018.. The parameters of their sperm were thus cross-referenced with the use they made of their phone. “The men completed a detailed questionnaire about their lifestyle habits, their general health and more specifically the frequency with which they used their phone, as well as where they placed it when they were not using it. explained Serge Nef, professor at the Faculty of Medicine of UNIGE and SCAHT – Swiss Center for Applied Human Toxicology, who co-led the study.
In fact, the study showed that men using their phone more than 20 times a day have 30% fewer sperm than those who use it once a week.
However, this drop in sperm concentration decreased over time due to a change in the composition of cell phones.
How to explain this effect, Charlotte Methorst, urologist puts forward a hypothesis in 20 minutes :
“The intuition we have is that the waves emitted by telephones will cause a breakdown of the barrier between the testicle and the blood, analyzes the urologist. Normally, a membrane prevents certain substances in the blood from passing into the testicular tubes. When we destroy this barrier, we create antisperm antibodies.”
The researchers, however, indicated that they found no concrete association between cell phone use and low sperm motility and morphology.
The heat emitted can also play a role
The other hypothesis is that of the heat emitted by your device. Putting your phone in your pants pocket could also heat the testicles, which is harmful to the proper production of sperm. A high temperature in the testicle will therefore complicate the production of gametes, a phenomenon that is also at the heart of heated briefs used in male contraception. “As a precaution, it is best to avoid putting your phone in your pocket. It’s the same for the laptop on the lap, which also causes hyperthermia” continues the urologist.
Waves alone do not explain this drop
Last November, our medical director, Dr. Gérald Kierzek, invited us to take into account the entire context of life and not just carrying the phone in the pocket of our jeans:
“Is it the waves, or the lifestyle that impacts the quality of sperm today? Ultimately, the people who check their phones the most are also those who are the most stressed, who have a greater mental load, or experience professional stress. They also have less time to engage in physical activity… All of these factors can have an impact on fertility. These are so-called confounding factors that can tell us that we should stop focusing on the single causality of the phone, but take into consideration many other risk factors.”
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The impact of waves currently being studied
To know the real impact of waves, and by deduction the importance of other factors, a study financed by the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) was launched in 2023. Its objective is to measure directly and precisely exposure to electromagnetic waves as well as types of use and assess their impact on male reproductive health and fertility potential. Data will be collected using an application that each future participant will download to their mobile phone
The research team is actively recruiting participants for this study. The objective is also to better describe the mechanism of action behind these observations. “Do microwaves emitted by cell phones have a direct or indirect effect? Do they cause a significant increase in temperature in the testicles? Do they affect the hormonal regulation of sperm production? All this remains to be discovered.”conclude the researchers.
But when in doubt, maybe your pants pocket isn’t the best place to keep your smartphone close at hand.