Daniel Noah Halpern checks in on the state of the world's sperm in a lengthy piece for GQ, and the upshot at its worst is that there is "the possibility that we will become extinct." That line comes from Hagai Levine, who co-authored a 2017 Hebrew University/Mount Sinai meta-analysis of 185 studies that involved more than 40,000 men's sperm and found a worsening picture, and sharply so: In 1973, sperm counts were about 99 million sperm per milliliter of semen; by 2011, that count was down to 47 million per milliliter, and it's still dropping. "We are producing half the sperm our grandfathers did. We are half as fertile," writes Halpern, and the numbers prod him to ask: "Would 40 more years—or fewer—bring us all the way to zero?"
Halpern explores a number of other questions, among them, why haven't we noticed such a drastic change, and what's the cause? In his view, the answer to the latter question is clear, and "the scientists I talked to were less cautious about embracing this explanation than I expected": chemicals, which we've been ingesting since the industrial revolution but even more so since WWII. He offers a primer on endocrine disruptors like phthalates and BPA, which are found in more obvious places like water bottles, less obvious places like grocery store receipts, and far, far less obvious places like pasta and eggs. He also talks about the significance of a man's anogenital distance (that's the distance between the genitals and anus) and how it interrelates with those endocrine disruptors. What's the solution? IVF, perhaps ultimately. Read his full piece for more. (Read more Longform stories.)