Reports of mankind's death are greatly exaggerated
ACCORDING to researchers at Harvard, watching too much television while sitting long into the evening on a leather couch is a shocking insult to testicular function. Apparently, couch potatoes have lower sperm counts than other males.
So here is yet another report of how we damage that most intimate and most prized attribute we cherish - our fertility.
Is all this attention, so frequently bruited in the media, because we still confuse our fertility with our sexuality? Certainly, the extraordinary focus on fertility is rather bizarre. Doctors, scientists, environmental experts - even, from time to time, politicians - condemn us. Our indulgence in the various pleasures of life is having a drastic effect on the future of the human race. For years we have been repeatedly warned that we men are becoming increasingly infertile. Sperm counts, it is stridently claimed, are steadily reducing - some authors have even argued that Homo sapiens will soon become extinct because we are not protecting our generative organs.
The less-regarded medical journals have published some 440 articles in the past 25 years alluding to the subject.
Even our diet and the jobs and sports we men do are having a catastrophic effect. Exposure to plastics in tap water, or drinking more than one cup of strong coffee each morning, or using a laptop computer held too close to your private parts, is fatal, we are warned. Goldmining, deep-sea diving, taxi and truck driving, rugby playing, cycling and long-distance running are emasculating us. It seems that even wearing a cricket box or a jockstrap causes damage by overheating. But ''fortunately'', our testicles will soon be so small that we shall no longer need such protection.
Women, too, are in the firing line. Yet the lie that women make themselves infertile by being stressed is wrong. And a quick perusal of herbal medicine and health advice websites reveals a vast number of foodstuffs, beverages, trace elements and dietary additives that give awful warnings about how they prevent an egg from being released from the ovary. None stands up to real scrutiny.
If bad living really causes infertility, why is there such massive overpopulation in some of the poorest countries in the world, where stress and poor diet are major environmental issues?
A woman in her teens has about 300,000 eggs in her ovaries. By the time she is menopausal, none are left. Women of child-bearing age steadily run out of eggs by the continuous process of cell death. While reading a magazine from cover to cover, a normal woman will have lost on average two eggs - while a typical man will have made 70,000 new sperm.
Such knowledge gives grist to the mill of some of my colleagues who are ''fertility experts''. We hear senior fellows of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advise women to have their children as early in life as possible. Delay, they say, will lead to being infertile. They ignore the conflict of interests they may have, of course, as some of them run highly profitable IVF clinics. So often in such centres, a good living is made out of storing frozen eggs of well-to-do women who are worried by such publicity.
But I doubt that television is the source of the problem, otherwise my own children, who work day and night in the media, would be sterile. Nor is it likely to be due to sitting long hours through the evenings on leather couches, otherwise the hereditary peers sitting in the House of Lords would surely have died out.
Robert Winston is emeritus professor of fertility studies at London's Imperial College.
Guardian News & Media