Sunday, April 19, 2009

Fertility: food for thought

Business guru Chet Holmes has an advertisement running on the CNBC channel of XM Satellite radio.

In making a point about the importance of making your marketing pitch interesting, topical, and relevant, Mr. Holmes informs businessmen (and women) that our grandfathers' sperm count used to be something impressive... 100,000,000 per whatever the standard liquid measurement is for semen. Now, it is allegedly 50,000,000.

I was especially struck by this because suddenly my alien superimpregnators didn't looks quite so super. I'd done my research in a modern fertility clinic.

According to :
World Health Organization guidelines say a normal sperm count consists of 20 million sperm per ejaculate, with 50 percent motility and 60 percent normal morphology (form). The amount of semen in the ejaculation matters, too. If the concentration is less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of ejaculate, it may impair fertility. Still, if the sperm show adequate forward motility -- the ability to swim -- concentrations as low as 5 to 10 million can produce a pregnancy.

It's interesting to note that only 25 years ago, counts of 100 million sperm per ejaculate were the norm. With time, the effects of our toxic environment and/or lifestyle seem to be gradually degrading male sperm counts.

Last January 2008, editor and columnist Mark Alpert in Scientific American discussed declining female fertility with particular reference to bisphenol A, which is a component of plastics used in many consumer products including baby bottles and bottled water bottles.

Apparently, bisphenol A can cause miscarriages, birth defects, and can interfere with the growth of egg cells not only in the bottled water drinker, but also in her daughters and grand-daughters.

Another problem for all of us is what is in our tap water, because of all the prescriptions (used, or discarded unused) that are flushed down the toilet. I remember being appalled at the hospice staff's standard procedure when my mother in law passed away in our home a few years ago. All manner of laxatives, diuretics, heart medicine, narcotics, stimulants went down the toilet. It was the law.


Alien-human romances are wonderful fodder for Romance authors. One of the favorite premises for an alien romance is that the hero's race needs fertile women because their own have either all died out, or are no longer fertile, and so the heroes have to kidnap suitable candidates from Earth.


Maybe in a few hundred years, we Earthwomen will go off and kidnap alien males for similar reasons. That, also, is a popular premise, I'm sure.

My thought for the day is that science is following art. We have several eminently plausible explanations why the premise for alien abduction romances could be utterly convincing and topical.

By the way... not every nation on Earth is challenged.

Rowena Cherry
If it's April 19th, my interview is still running on


  1. Gee, I'm not at all worried about this.

  2. You're right. My last paragraph was not well written. I need to do some editing when I'm not distracted.

    Thanks for commenting.


  3. Actually, it wasn't confusing. It was Baby #5 kicking me in the ribs.

  4. And yet Earth's population keeps growing. This was very interesting reading though. Your point about science following fiction does hold true in some things and isn't that scary. Do you think writers are psychic or just pure genius?

  5. Futurology is more a matter of training and temperament than genius or intelligence.

    You see, most of us who end up being writers are exploiting their worst fault - a voracious reading habit. It takes VAST amounts of data stuffed in willy-nilly to do futurology. Acquiring that data is what our parents called "wasting time."

    I'll talk a little bit about how the human brain is hard wired to assemble data into patterns in my blog post here tomorrow.

    But I could actually contend the point that science follows art. I see art and science as integral parts of the same thing - not one following the other.

    But then differing views is what makes art into Art! If we all saw the mishmosh world the same way, there would be no need for language or communication!

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  6. Susan,

    Regarding population, check this out:

    Possibly they don't consume what we do.

    As for my view as to whether speculative romance writers are psychic or pure genius... one can be both. :-)

    Tongue firmly in cheek there!

  7. Apart from Kimber Ann's obvious difference in this regard. I would be interested in hearing if any of the author's here, think that in the educated "first" world there is really a decline in fertility and if so what they attribute it to.
    Are women hitting menopause earlier? Is the ability to get pregnant between the ages of 30 - 40 the same as it was previously?
    Are men as fertile as they used to be? Can we blame tight jeans (used to be the reason in the old days...) lol

  8. Ombersand,

    Thanks for your question. I have to believe that male scientists with splendid equipment do count sperm, and do compare notes.

    (Hence the sperm counting scene in Knight's Fork)

    I'd be interested to know whether they brought in a group of great grandfathers, or how they made the comparison with earlier generations!

    A lot of things are talked about that didn't used to be mentioned, and since the 1960s there's been the pill, and other more effective methods of birth control, so it is hard to say.

    Now there's in-vitro to help those who might have been called "barren" in Biblical times. There's also anorexia which can affect fertility.
    But, young men don't take The Pill.

    Do men take Viagra because it is there, or because they have been encouraged to feel that everyone is taking it, so they might as well get theirs?

    Or, does the apparent obsession with it as evinced in our spam filters tend to mislead?

    As for the tight jeans issue, I believe that tight jeans might kill sperm (by overheating them) but it wouldn't eradicate them from the count, they'd just be DOA.... or perhaps swimming listlessly in confused circles.

    Maybe there's an evolutionary "use it or lose it" trigger. When we have so many choices with regard to our lives, it's hard to know what is really going on.

    Maybe it's all to do with the emancipation of women in the developed world!

  9. Susan,

    A student of history might suggest that throughout the middle ages and up to the industrial age, cycles of plagues, famines, and international wars set back population growth.

  10. I suppose I should do a whole essay on the Fertility issue - there's so much to say both on the Science front and the Esoteric front.

    However, I just saw this news item on the recession and a spike in abortions and vasectomies, and thought of Rowena's blog post.

  11. It's interesting to note that only 25 years ago, counts of 100 million sperm per ejaculate were the norm. With time, the effects of our toxic environment and/or lifestyle seem to be gradually degrading male sperm counts.
    If the above is true, that's a really significant difference in a short period of time on an evolutionary scale.
    Maybe there's an evolutionary "use it or lose it" trigger. When we have so many choices with regard to our lives, it's hard to know what is really going on.I wonder whether "nature" has the ability to "self regulate" ie know that there is not the need for the species in that area to get to a much higher count, so "it" decreases the fertility to suit?
    I found another article on the subject:
    A lot of the articles point to one particular Danish study of young men doing a compulsory test before going into the military.
    I wonder how many of them were marijuana users and whether that was taken into account in the statistics?
    Environmental chemicals may definitely be a factor and may explain why third world countries are not experiencing the same change.
    An interesting book called "Health Ecology" by Murtaza Hunari, Morteza Honari and Thomas Boleyn compares fertility of women in Morocco compared to Spain. This talks about the effects of the social environment on fertility as well as other things.
    We are living in an age where the age for menarche is decreasing. Interestingly, this earlier "sexualization" of young girls is often only on the surface. They may be ovulating earlier and being seen to be "sexual beings" earlier but not necessarily sexually active earlier.
    In fact for a large proportion of young girls, because of the fear of Aids etc, many may not become sexually active till later in life compared to 25 years ago.
    This may mean that their body's reproductive fertility is half over by the time they become sexually active.
    I find the whole concept of a woman's fertile life phase fascinating, both in its length and regularity. Our ovulation frequency in Western Societies is much higher because we haven't fallen pregnant as often (which is, after all, what our bodies were designed to do).
    Around 30, the female body assumes we have finished having our babies and the reproductive cycle slows down. (For most people... lol)
    Given that many females don't start to think about starting a family till then, it is no wonder that fertility Clinics have such a thriving business.
    We are actually working against nature.
    Definitely lots to explore and write about using an Alien culture as a setting.
    Go for it girls.......

  12. Apologies, my last comment on reproductive comparisons between women from Morocca and Spain was actually from an article called "Health of women" Changing Lifestyles and Reproductive Health by Cristina Bernis which was included in "Health Ecology" edited by those people.

  13. I was surprised to read in the paper today that by the time a woman reaches her 40s, the chance of conceiving in any particular menstrual cycle is down to 5%!

    RE Viagra: Contrary to popular belief, Viagra and its pharmaceutical siblings aren't aphrodisiacs. They don't create desire where none exists. They alleviate medical causes that prevent a man from acting on the desire -- physical stimulation is still needed. (E.g., Viagra counteracts the effects of drugs or diseases that interfere with attaining a firm, reliable erection.)

  14. Margaret,

    Thank you for your comment. If you are correct, mankind is in a sad state indeed.

    I just Googled "Viagra and GM" and confirmed my recollection that General Motors alone spent 17 million dollars last year supplying Viagra to workers (and perhaps retirees).

    Perhaps I should have Googled "Viagra +..." all the other car companies. Also Cialis and Levitra....

    Since GM, even 11 years ago, did not pay for eligible female health care recipients to receive birth control, (nor does it pay for allergy medication for children), it seemed deeply ... unfair.

    When one is a subscriber to a health care plan, one's monthly subscriptions subsidize whoever needs care.

    No doubt, it was a gross management mistake on GM's part in 1992 (or whenever Pfeizer brought Viagra to market) to cover such products.

    I daresay 17 million a year compounded over almost 20 years would have been quite useful right now.

  15. Well, yes, refusing to cover birth control products for women while claiming to offer comprehensive health insurance is grossly unfair. Thank goodness Maryland has laws and regulations that guard against such neglect. (Speaking as what my husband calls a "tax and spend," "nanny state" liberal, who believes this is one of the things government exists FOR.)

    However, paying for Viagra, Cialis, etc., for medically justified cases is NOT frivolous (as your comment seems to imply -- sorry if I misunderstood). A man who has erectile dysfunction because of a condition such as diabetes that interferes with circulation or a medically necessary medication (e.g., some blood pressure meds) that has that as a side effect has a legitimate need for an ED drug. It is a quality of life issue.

  16. Margaret,

    I beg your pardon for any insensitivity or cynicism that I may have communicated.

    Blame the advertisements that show highly attractive, youthful, otherwise vigorous gentlemen whose problem might be that they are sitting in one bathtub, and their wives are in another.

    Or the voice-overs of adverts that seem to suggest the need for choice or instant gratification...