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laptop_sperm

Dear Sexpert,

Like most college students, I spend most of my day on my laptop, working on assignments or watching Netflix in bed. I recently read on a men’s health website that using your laptop on your lap can damage sperm production in the future. I’m obviously not planning on having kids now, but if I keep using my laptop on my lap, will there be any longterm damage down there?

Sincerely,

Testicularly Concerned

Dear Testicularly Concerned,

Thank you for your question! Even if you are not planning on having children any time soon, maintaining good genital health practices is always a good idea.

The main functions of the testicles are to produce testosterone and other hormones and to produce sperm. Unlike ovaries, which have analogous functions, testicles sit outside the abdominal cavity. This anatomy layout keeps the testicles at a lower temperature than the rest of the body — usually two to four degrees Fahrenheit lower than body temperature in humans. This lower temperature allows for better sperm production. At even a few degrees higher, testicular metabolism is increased, creating cellular stress and low local levels of oxygen. These factors cause more defective (i.e. not as effective at fertilizing an egg, slower moving, and fewer) sperm to be produced. Luckily, the body has mechanisms to regulate temperature and keep the testicles healthy.

Unfortunately, many modern phenomena challenge this temperature balance. Inactivity, tight pants, and yes, using your laptop on your lap can all increase scrotal temperature. One study found that having a laptop on your lap — not even in use! — can increase scrotal temperature by up to five degrees Fahrenheit. That increase is high enough to interfere with sperm production, and prolonged laptop use in this way every day may not allow the temperature to return to normal. Even using a pillow or pad as a buffer between the laptop and your lap traps heat and increases the temperature down there.

As terrifying as this sounds, if you aren’t trying to conceive in the next few months, it is likely you don’t have anything to worry about! Based on current studies, there does not seem to be an increased risk of anything serious arising from testicular heat exposure. There are a few studies in animals that have linked prolonged heat exposure (for days or months) to decreased testosterone levels and death of the cells that produce sperm, but especially given the short period of time laptops have been on the market, there are no studies showing longterm effects of such usage. Note: increasing laptop use is NOT an effective means of contraception. Proper use of barrier methods and hormonal or non-hormonal forms of birth control are still important for lowering risk of pregnancy.

Overall, if you use your laptop on your lap once in a while, you have little to worry about. Moderation is key — if you can use your laptop on a table, do so, and remember to take breaks and walk around (a practice that is good for testicular and overall health!)

Sincerely,

The Sexpert

Information retrieved from Time, the Human Reproduction journal, the US National Library of Medicine, and the Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity journal.

The Sexpert is a biweekly column done in collaboration between the Prospect and the Peer Health Adviser (PHA program). For more information, you can visit the Sexpert’s website. If you are interested in submitting a question, you can email sexpert@princeton.edu. 

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