Sperm are fragile little cells that are easily susceptible to damage. Wearing tight underwear, smoking cigarettes, heavy drinking, hot tubs, long bike rides, and marijuana are just some of the many factors that can impact the quality of a man’s sperm. Now, the latest thing to add to this list: using wi-fi on your laptop.
A recent study has found, at least in a laboratory, a link between the wireless internet connection on your computer and reduced sperm quality when the computer is operated close to the male genitals — such as on the lap.1 Scientists at the Nascentis Center for Reproductive Medicine in Cordoba, Argentina, and at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk teamed up to perform tests on sperm to determine whether wi-fi could impact their motility levels and DNA structure.
The research volunteers were 29 men between the ages of 26 and 45. They provided sperm samples, which the scientists then separated in half. One portion from each participant was placed in a container at a distance from a computer. The other portion was placed in a container directly under the computer, which was then turned on and the wi-fi was used for four hours to provide internet connectivity.
In the samples that were under the laptops, 25 percent of the sperm had no movement and nine percent demonstrated damage to their DNA. In the samples that were not near the laptops, 14 percent showed no movement and only three percent had DNA damage. That’s nearly twice the motility problems and three times the chromosomal problems for the sperm in proximity to the computers.
The significant twist to the finding was that it was not just the heat of the laptops that affected the sperm. That link between heat and sperm damage has been found in numerous other studies. Here, the researchers also kept some sperm under the laptop with the wi-fi connection off, and they found that the damage to the sperm was much less than with it on. Therefore, the scientists involved concluded that it was the electromagnetic radiation coming off of the wireless technology that was the element doing most of the harm to the sperm.
And let’s face it, with computers so intricately woven into everything we do from work to entertainment to household budgeting and bill-paying and more, four hours next to a wi-fi connection doesn’t seem like too long of a stretch for most people. Since the sperm were not within the men’s bodies, it is possible that some of the damage can be attributed to its being released and out in the environment alone. But clearly much more damage took place to the sperm samples near the wireless connections than those away from the computers, so it cannot account for the bulk of the harm done.
We also know that our bodies have not proven to provide much, if any, protection from harm by the conveniences and techno toys we’ve come to rely on in the past few decades. In addition to computers, the radiation from cell phones has also been linked in research with potentially damaging sperm.2,3,4 Chances are, you are not sitting with the cell phone in your lap as you might a laptop, but, guys, what about that smartphone that you carry all day in your pocket next to your genitals? Many use wi-fi.
The upshot is, as hard as it can be to walk away from our computers, we can and must — at least to some degree. Don’t keep your laptop on your lap or, at least, turn off the wi-fi if you are working in programs on the hard drive that don’t require an internet connection (unless you’re practicing birth control). Take frequent breaks that remove you physically from the machine, preferably to squeeze a little activity into your day. That way, you will not only be protecting your sperm, but doing your whole body a favor because computer time is also way too sedentary to be healthy if indulged in for long periods.
1 Avendano, Conrado; Mata, Ariela; Sanchez Sarmiento, Cesar A.; and Doncel, Gustavo F. “Use of laptop computers connected to internet through Wi-Fi decreases human sperm motility and increases sperm DNA fragmentation.” Fertil Steril. 2012 Jan; 97(1):39-45.e2. Epub 2011 Nov 23. < http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22112647 >.
2 Baste et al. “Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields; male infertility and sex ratio of offspring.” Eur J Epidemiol. 2008 Apr 16 <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18415687>
3 Argarwal et al. “Effect of cell phone usage on semen analysis in men attending infertility clinic: an observational study.” Fertil Steril. 2008 Jan;89(1):124-8. Epub 2007 May 4. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17482179>
4 Fejes et al. “Is there a Relationship Between Cell Phone Use and Semen QUALITY?” Archives of Andrology, 51:385–393, 2005. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16087567>