Mobile phones might be one reason why male sperm count has declined dramatically over the past half century, a new study has found. This trend is a concern, because poor semen quality — which can include low sperm count as well as low sperm motility, or a reduced ability to move efficiently; and abnormal sperm morphology, or irregularly sized and shaped sperm — can lower a man’s fertility.
For years, scientists have debated whether cellphone use, or carrying mobile devices in pockets too close to the genitals, might cause poor semen quality or male infertility.
For the new study, researchers examined cellphone use and semen quality in more than 2,500 young men between 18 and 22 years old who reported for compulsory military fitness assessment in Switzerland. They all underwent physicals, provided semen samples, and completed questionnaires about their lifestyle habits, health history, and cellphone use.
Overall, men who used their cellphones more than 20 times a day were 21 percent more likely to have low sperm count, according to study results published in the journal Fertility and Sterility.
Questions Remain About Cellphone Use and Sperm Quality
While this offers one possible explanation for why male sperm count has been going down, it doesn’t prove that cellphones directly cause this problem, or mean that men who use cellphones are automatically risking their fertility, says Allan Pacey, MBE, PhD, a professor of andrology at the University of Manchester in England who wasn’t involved in the new study.
“The study describes a statistical association between cellphone use and sperm quality, but it does not prove there is a link,” Dr. Pacey says. “Others have speculated that the electromagnetic radiation from the cellphone might be enough to disrupt sperm production in some way, but equally it could be that heavy cellphone users do something else in their lives that has an impact on their sperm quality.”
Sperm Shape and Speed Not Affected by Cellphone Use
Beyond the lack of definitive proof that cellphones decrease semen quality, the results also included some encouraging news for men. Researchers didn’t find any connection between cellphone use and two aspects of semen quality that can impact fertility: the shape of sperm and how fast sperm can move. The study also found no evidence that carrying a cellphone in a pants pocket influenced the risk of low sperm count.
“If men are concerned, then keeping their phones in a bag and limiting their use is a relatively easy thing for them to do,” Pacey says. “But there is currently no evidence that will improve their sperm quality. As for me, I will be continuing to keep my phone in my trouser pocket.”
Men Need Not Be Alarmed, Say Experts
Imran Omar, MBBS, MD, a urologist and a senior research fellow at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, agrees that these study findings shouldn’t scare men into changing their cellphone habits.
“In the big picture, while there is ongoing research on the potential effects of cellphone use on fertility, the evidence is inconclusive, and the impact, if any, appears to be relatively modest,” says Dr. Omar, who wasn’t involved in the new study. “Men should not overly worry about their mobile phone usage having a significant adverse effect on fertility.”
If they're concerned, there are some steps men can and should take to preserve their fertility, Omar adds. “Lifestyle factors, such as sedentary behavior or other habits like smoking or poor diet may also reduce semen quality,” Omar says. “It is essential to maintain a healthy lifestyle and use mobile phones in moderation, as excessive use may have other adverse health effects beyond potential impacts on fertility.”
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- Levine H et al. Temporal Trends in Sperm Count: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Samples Collected Globally in the 20th and 21st Centuries. Human Reproduction Update. November 15, 2022.
- Rahban R et al. Association Between Reported Mobile Phone Use and the Semen Quality of Young Men. Fertility and Sterility. October 31, 2023.