Researchers have found that men who sit with a computer in their lap could be adversely affecting the quality of their sperm.
Authors of the study, published in the journal Fertility and Sterility, said there is not really a lot that can be done about it, short of putting the laptop on a desk.
The researchers, led by Dr Yefim Sheynkin, a urologist at the State University of New York, hooked up thermometers to the scrotums of 29 young men who placed a laptop on their knees while using it. They found that even with a lap pad under the computer, the men’s privates overheated quickly.
“Millions and millions of men are using laptops now, especially those in the reproductive age range,” Dr Sheynkin told Reuters Health. “Within 10 or 15 minutes their scrotal temperature is already above what we consider safe, but they don’t feel it,” he added.
There have not been any studies to date on how laptops impact men’s fertility, said Sheynkin, and there is no surefire evidence that it would. But previous research has shown that warming the scrotum more than 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit is enough to harm sperm.
The testicles’ position outside of the body ensures they stay a few degrees cooler than the inside of the body, which is necessary for sperm production.
“I wouldn’t say that if someone starts to use laptops they will become infertile,” Sheynkin said. But frequent use might contribute to reproductive issues, because “the scrotum doesn’t have time to cool down.”
According to the American Urological Association, about 1 in 6 couples in the US have trouble conceiving a baby, and nearly half the time the problem stems from the male.
Sheynkin said, however, that tight jeans and briefs are generally not a risk factor. “Clothes should not significantly change scrotal temperature, because you are moving around,” he said.
To hold a laptop on your lap, however, you need to sit still with your legs closed. After an hour in this position, the researchers found that men’s testicles have increased in temperature by up to 4 degrees.
A lap pad kept the computer cool and also made sure less heat was transmitted to the skin. But it didn’t do much to cool the testicles, giving a “false sense of security,” said Sheynkin.
“It doesn’t matter what pad you use, you can put a pillow beneath your computer and it still won’t protect you,” he said.
Researchers found that leg position played a big role. When the men sat with their legs spread wide, by using a large lap pad, they could keep their testicles cooler. But their scrotum still overheated within 30 minutes.
“No matter what you do, even with the legs spread wide apart, the temperature is still going to be higher than what we call safe,” Sheynkin told Reuters Health.
Dr. James F. Smith, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, said a clear impact of a laptop affecting fertility had still not been shown, and that it probably did not play a huge role.
Still, heating up the scrotum is likely to be bad for sperm production, he said. He often asks patients that he sees for infertility if they use a laptop and, if so, suggests they spread their legs periodically or place the laptop on a desk to keep their testicles from overheating.
Dr. Smith said the consequences of continued overheating of the testicles — so-called scrotal hyperthermia — probably weren’t permanent, but might take months to go away.
On the Net:
- Fertility and Sterility
- State University of New York
- American Urological Association
- University of California, San Francisco