Sex Fact: Sex for Teens

Sex Fact: Sex for Teens

Between 1990 and 2000, the teen pregnancy rate dropped by nearly 30 percent.Also way down are teen births and abortions. Is it because U.S. teens just aren’t screwing as much ’cause they spend so much time in super-churches and you, know, god doesn’t want them to? Or has the direct and honest talk about safe sex and STDs and pregnancy actually managed to penetrate?

Or, as suggested by recent scientific studies, is it that dudes just don’t make semen like they used to?

A recent article on Slate.com points out that, although both sides of partisan politics—abstinence vs. education— want to take credit, it looks like it’s thanks to the boys. And their sperm count.

In the mammal world, humans have weak sperm, apparently only outdone by the low numbers put out by gorillas and ganders. And this, according one scientist, is due to longtime female monogamy.Think of it like this: If Man #1’s little guys don’t have to do battle with Man #2’s little guys, let alone Man #3’s, 4’s and 5’s, the speed, strength and numbers of human semen just aren’t that important anymore.

Up to a point, that is. In seagulls and seals, mollusks and polar bears, gators and teenage boys, studies increasingly suggest that decades of exposure to pollutants and toxins are further lowering sperm counts in the offspring. A 1992 Danish study suggested that “environmental influences” caused a global sperm count decline of roughly 1 percent per year from 1938 to 1992.

A scientific debate, with a political edge, was born, and future studies did their best to refute these findings.Then along came Shanna Swan. Swan, an American reproductive epidemiologist, has published a book and at least one study confirming the sperm-count drop findings. United States: 1.5 percent/year; Europe and Australia: 3 percent; and although the developing world doesn’t present much of a drop, Swan also shows that in the United States, sperm count is lower in rural areas than in cities.

She places the blame on pesticides and other regional chemicals—remember DES, the 1930s drug that was supposed to prevent miscarriages but caused cancer in offspring or compromised their fertility? The Slate.com article goes on to quote more studies that have found male alligators with small phalli and low testosterone levels, and female alligators with way too high estrogen levels (the mama gators had been exposed to a toxic dump). Then, back to humans, “trends that seem to point to a subtle feminization of male babies” which include: urethral openings on the side of the shaft rather than the tip, undescended testicles, a shortening of the space between a boy’s anus to his genitals, etc.

Oh, and less sperm.

While less teen pregnancy is a good thing, birth defects and the cumulative effect of a falling sperm count are not. I wonder what healthy sperm solution will be easier for newly right-leaning middle America to swallow: Women need to have sex with more partners? Or legislation that enforces lower use of pesticides and toxic dumping? —Jen Loy

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