Unable semen

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The Independent Online
Why is it that sperm prefer Toulouse to Paris and Helsinki to Edinburgh? With women, of course, it's the other way around. Which is not so surprising, since most of the time what is good for sperm is bad for women.

This week two new studies have given added urgency to the issue of our era, Male Panic. Over an 11-year period between 1984 and 1995, 600 men from Edinburgh had their semen tested (by doctors, I hasten to add) and the results are dramatic. For each year later that you were born after 1959, it seems, your sperm numbers and quality will have declined by 2 per cent. So today's 20-year-old Scot has 25 per cent less wrigglies in his semen than does his compatriot born before 1959. At this rate, the office genius calculated for me, by 2095 sperm count will stand at 10 per cent of its 1984 figure.

These figures are in line with an earlier study done in Paris. But in the balmy climes of Toulouse all is well, according to a study conducted there. And Finnish sperm counters report super quality up near the Arctic Circle.

Clearly we cannot go on like this. Sure, for the first 10 years of their adult lives most men will be quite happy for their sperm count to be zero. They might even advertise it, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Don't blame me, mine don't swim". Young women, fed up with the paraphernalia of contraception (strange pills, rubber saucers, bits of scrap metal, endless counter-aphrodisiacal creams and suppositories) might be expected to flock to such youths.

But then things will change. It will be time for babies. With younger chaps in effect sterile, hapless older men will be pulled into doorways and alleys by nubile would-be mothers and ravished for the sake of their seed. They will have to travel in convoys - Buffer Patrols - deploying walking-sticks and whirling hearing-aids around on the ends of their cords, to fight off assaults on their honour. It is a prospect that fills the over-40s with dread.

So something must be done. But what? The problem is that there is little agreement on the causes of the Great Sperm Drought. A cursory trawl through the literature reveals a host of different theories, which could each individually be the true cause, or which together might explain the phenomenon.

The two great families of explanation are Heat and Diet. Heat is more fun, since it argues that sedentary occupation (especially driving long distances) causes men to sit for long periods with their legs too close together, thus warming their balls to temperatures above the optimum for sperm. Tight knickers have the same effect.

Diet is largely about the ingestion of hormones or chemicals that suppress sperm production. Prime suspects are non-organic dairy foods, sprayed vegetables, the plastic packaging on sandwiches, the treated insides of food tins, paint additives, babies' bottles and soya. Needless to say all the usual suspects - alcohol, tobacco, drugs - don't help much either. A Lancet survey two years ago reported that an unexpectedly high sperm density had been found in semen samples from 30 men attending a convention of the Danish Organic Farmers' Association.

I think it only prudent to assume that all these factors are to blame, and to react accordingly. My proposed Sperm Maximisation Programme will offer a regime based on the following principles: organic food only; no milk or cheese; no DIY involving paint etc; no contact with food preparation or babies; no soya; no drinking of water (beer only).

Kilts are to be worn whenever practicable; an exercise programme will recommend that all male office workers stretch their legs as widely apart as articulated joints will permit at least 10 times a day (some already seem to do this); there will be lap-level air-conditioning in all new cars.

The alternatives are too awful to contemplate: extinction as a nation, group associate membership of the Danish Organic Farmers' Association, or a future in thrall to the sauna-dwellers of Helsinki and the sausage- wielders of Toulouse. Me? I was born before 1959. Just.