World — May 5, 2011 at 12:45 PM

Assault on manhood

The world is undergoing an unprecedented exponential growth in information technology. At the core of it are computers which have literally taken over our lives. Unless you live in a cave and cut away from civilization, you use a computer in the course of a normal day activity. But did you know that use of laptops if placed on the lap pose a risk to a man’s manhood? This information should alarm everyone irrespective of sex. Even if you are not a man, chances are you have a husband, boyfriend, son, or nephew or know a male figure that could be at risk.

The huge popularity of laptop computers, coupled with existing evidence that elevated scrotal temperature can result in sperm damage, prompted researchers from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, U.S.A to undertake the first study (of 29 young men) into the effect of heat from laptop computers on scrotal temperature. The study shows that using a laptop computer on the lap increased the left scrotal temperature by a median 2.6° Celsius (36.7° Fahrenheit) and the right by a median 2.8° Celsius (37° Fahrenheit) after an hour. Scrotal temperature increased in the men who participated in the study within 10 to 15 minutes of operating a laptop that was placed on the lap of each participant.

The researchers also investigated what happens when a barrier is placed between a laptop and the lap while in use. The idea was to find out if placing a barrier between a laptop bottom and the lap could prevent heat from it from impacting testicular temperature rise. The result of the study showed that a temperature rise occurred even when the men placed a lap pad under the computer while operating it. The investigators further found that when the participants, while operating the laptops on their lap, spread their legs apart to reduce heat effect on their scrotum, scrotal temperature remained cooler for a while, but still began to edge up in less than 30 minutes.

The researchers concluded that prevention of scrotal hyperthermia is presently not feasible in male laptop users if the laptop is placed on the lap while operating it. However, according to them scrotal hyperthermia may be reduced if, while the laptop is in use on the lap, the male user modifies his sitting position to reflect spreading his legs apart coupled with a significant reduction of time spent on the laptop.

Interestingly this topic is not entirely new. It was first reported in 2004 by Science Daily, a research medium, which quoted its source as Europe’s leading reproductive medicine journal Human Reproduction. But the issue never really caught fire like it should have back then. It went cold and the world moved on as if the risk associated with men operating laptop computers on their lap no longer existed. I wonder if the companies that make laptop computers had something to do with this. It’s been seven years since that report. Luckily the report was published again online November 3, 2010 in a medical journal, Fertility and Sterility, but even this latest publication did not  prompt a fresh and fierce round of debate on the topic. It should.

The notion that exposing the testicle to prolonged heat can result in medical problems in men such as infertility is not new. For example, several previous studies have shown that increases in testicular or scrotal temperatures of between 1°  Celsius (33.8° Fahrenheit) and 2.9° Celsius (37.2° Fahrenheit) are associated with a sustained and considerable negative effect on spermatogenesis and fertility. Incidentally, according to medical records, prolonged bicycling can also overheat the testicles as can frequent use of saunas or hot tubs. So, what’s the big deal if we already knew that heat has adverse effect on testicles? The big deal is that although most people are aware of the negative effect of heat on testicles, there is lack of publicity and knowledge on the subject of scrotal hyperthermia in male laptop users.

Some experts may argue that operating a laptop from the lap is probably not the greatest threat to male fertility since you can always avoid any potential risk by placing the laptop on a desk. But to rationalize this as a panacea to the problem is rather simplistic. In any case, you can only advance this as a solution to the problem if you had prior knowledge of the risk posed by heat from laptops. Suppose you had no knowledge of this information then you probably wouldn’t form a habit of always placing your laptop on other surfaces (other than the lap) when operating it.

Dr. Andrew Weil (M.D) is an American author and physician. He is best known for establishing and popularizing the field of integrative medicine. In his general practice in Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Weil focuses on natural and preventive medicine. Responding to the study Weil states that “it is unlikely that any resulting impairment of fertility would be permanent. Nevertheless, if you are a man with a fertility problem, it would be better to keep your laptop off your lap”. I agree and disagree. To the extent that it would be better to keep your laptop off your lap if you are a man, I agree. However, I disagree with his premise that it is unlikely that any resulting impairment of fertility would be permanent. How did Dr. Weil know that? I am not sure how he came to that conclusion because, hitherto, there has been no study on the long time effect of subjecting testicles to a repeated hot-cold effect. Therefore, until a study confirms that there can be no harmful effect resulting from subjecting scrotums to a hot-cold cycle, we must proceed with caution.

Dr. Weil in his online column writes that the major causes of male infertility are defects in reproductive anatomy or physiology such as a damaged vas deferens, which is the tube that carries sperm from the testes. Others are disease (including sexually transmitted diseases), hormonal disorders and chemotherapy. In addition to heat, he writes, environmental exposures to toxins and some chemicals can impair sperm production.

Based on the preceding and other available medical facts we know that heat is not good for the testicle. The question now is: Do manufacturers of laptops know this information or not? If the answer is yes, then when did they know it? Was it before the publication on the matter by researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook? Again, if the answer is yes, then laptop computer manufacturers are in violation of a moral obligation to post warnings labels on laptops. Every male is entitled to know, before the purchase of a laptop, that placing it on the lap while in use could result in scrotal hyperthermia, a condition that is medically undesirable. Prescription and over-the-counter medications carry warning labels or statements about potential side effects. Why not laptops?

On the contrary, if laptop manufacturers did not know this information until the recent publication by the researchers, well now they know. In that case, next thing for them to do is voluntarily post warnings on laptops with advice for consumers to use with caution. Should a laptop manufacturer refuse to take the moral initiative to post warnings on its brand then that manufacturer must be compelled to do so via legislative muscle flexing in the country where it is registered.

For the consumer, now you know. If you are male, protect your testicles from laptop thermal effects. Do it with all your might. After all, the testes are the production chamber of your sperm; therefore, they are home to your future family or from whence your current family came (depending on where you are in the race of life).  Anything contrary is uncivilized.

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