Burned Out?

Technology & Testicles

Men who use laptop computers on their laps for hours on end every day are risking their chances of future fatherhood. A study of 29 men suggests that a combination of clenching their legs together to balance the darn thing, plus the heat given off by the processor caused the temperature of the scrotum to rise as much as 2.8 degrees C during laptop use. Dr. Yefim Sheynkin, lead author of this study, which was conducted at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, intends to run further studies to determine whether this type of exposure has any direct impact on sperm quality and male fertility.

There is a well-documented association between high testicular temperature levels and infertility. But these effects are thought to be transient. Men hoping to help their partners conceive are advised to refrain from taking very hot baths, using a sauna, or wearing tight pants since all of these can elevate testicular temperature.

Constant Usage Causes Problems

Sheynkin, however, posits that since laptop use has become ubiquitous and constant, the use of these mobile computers may yet become a factor in a couple's ability or inability to conceive and bear children. "It's a unique situation with laptop computers," says Sheynkin. "This is not a short term, occasional exposure, but a repetitive use of a computer, with the same heat exposure, a couple of times a day for many years, for a whole new generation of men."

"By 2005, there will be a predicted 150 million laptop computers in use worldwide. Continued improvements in power, size and price have favored their increased use in younger people and laptop sales now exceed those of desktop computer", said Dr. Sheynkin.

Until recently, the effect of laptops on scrotal temperature when they are used on the lap was not known.

"Laptops can reach internal operating temperatures of over 70 degrees Celsius. They are frequently positioned close to the scrotum and as well as being capable of producing direct local heat, they require the user to sit with high thighs close together to balance the machines, which traps the scrotum between the thighs", explained the doctor.

Hot Topic

Marc Goldstein, a Cornell University fertility expert at the Weill Medical College in New York says, "It makes perfect sense, but no one had thought about the fertility effect of a hot computer on your lap. It's going to be a very hot topic." Goldstein has collaborated with Sheynkin in the past, although he was not active in this recent study.

Male fertility specialist Paul Turek, of the University of California, San Francisco commented, "It's a provocative study. I'm hoping people do take note of it, so we can start to assess the clinical meaning of it."

The laptop/fertility trial was suggested to Sheynkin by a medical student who took Sheynkin's class on infertility causes. The student commented on the fact that laptops generate a great deal of heat with the interior temperature of the machines going over 70 degrees C. He also pointed out the fact that men spend a great deal of time with these machines resting just above their genitals.

Until now, there was only one previous paper on the topic of laptop warmth and contact with a man's reproductive organs. This was an anecdotal report from a 2002 issue of The Lancet, in which a scientist suffered actual burns to his scrotum and penis after using a laptop.

Male Infertility

Since up to half of all infertility cases have to do with the male, it's important for men to pay attention to the issues that can affect their fertility. Male fertility can be affected by genetic, biological, or sexual problems. However, some of the everyday causes of low sperm count include overheating testicles by spending too much time in the hot tub or sauna, using certain medications, smoking and alcohol use, and stress, which affects hormones.


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