Melanie McDonagh

Don’t panic! There’s more than enough sperm to go around

Don't panic! There's more than enough sperm to go around
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Getting agitated, are you, about declining sperm counts? The Guardian called the fall in numbers 'shocking'; for the Telegraph, never one to underplay these things, 'Sperm count collapse could spell doom for humanity'. Really? It feels like one of those stories about species extinction, helped by the undeniable resemblance of spermatozoa to tadpoles.

You may have noticed that women are markedly less agitated about all this than men, at least the three I spoke to. For once – hah – it’s not women who have all the angst about procreation. All the Bridget Jones business about body clocks, biological sell-by dates and egg freezing was formerly the preserve of women. Now men can share the grief…welcome, progenitors.

There are a few considerations that should give us pause. The first is that even if sperm counts are declining by 'almost 60 per cent' if you read the Telegraph or 52 per cent if you read the Guardian, that leaves us with quite enough male gametes to fertilise the entire female population, even without recourse to extensive polygamy. Mick Jagger alone could probably do it.

And if men could only get over their commitment problems so as to marry earlier in life, women wouldn’t have to put their eggs in freezers, in a mildly revolting exercise to enable them to conceive through IVF in later middle age. If we went back to marrying at 25, women wouldn’t have all these problems. I mean, how difficult is it?

The other overwhelming sentiment in all this is a sense of mild outrage that the scientists and pundits have switched so completely and without a word of apology from saying the apocalypse will come from ever increasing population size to exactly the reverse problem, viz, declining fertility. At regular intervals I get agonised messages from a well-meaning outfit called Population Matters, which is terrifically exercised about overpopulation, most recently calling on its subscribers to limit their offspring to two children.

Only a month or two ago there was, on Radio 4 (of course!) a public broadcast discussion about the demographic dangers ahead. The conclusion was that we mustn’t – of course! – think that this is just a problem for other people; we too must commit to limiting our family size to two children. In the case of the audience, it probably wasn’t a problem; let me leave it at that. I mean, if you’re one of the people who thinks it’s population that’s causing global warming, this surely is good news, no?

Which brings us to the other part of the question. This is only an issue in the developed West, almost certainly in the majority white population. In sub-Saharan Africa, no one is complaining about diminishing sperm counts. They don’t need to do aromatherapy for stress or drink bottled water to avoid all the contraceptives in the tap water or eschew tight denim in order to beget children, lots of children; not least because the women they have children with do so at an earlier age than we do. I think we can relax about this meaning the end of the human species. Just the possible extinction of Guardian readers and Radio 4 listeners.

Written byMelanie McDonagh

Melanie McDonagh is a leaderwriter for the Evening Standard and Spectator contributor. Irish, living in London.

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