For years we’ve witnessed the feminist movement rail against “toxic masculinity.” The phrase has been used to malign the traditional male archetype as dangerous and diseased. But while masculinity has fallen under attack, many on the right have correctly identified the real crisis: a severe lack, not an excess, of masculinity.
Although conservatives have been quick to point out the consequences of masculinity’s decline, the solutions put forward by the right have almost uniformly assumed these problems are purely cultural. If only masculinity was encouraged and modeled rather than slandered by Gillette commercials, feminists, and the cultural drivel that Hollywood churns out, then perhaps we could revive it, some might believe.
The truth of the matter is much more harrowing.
The Threat to Masculinity Is Also Biological
Masculinity isn’t just under attack by the stereotypical blue-haired feminist or left-wing film directors. In fact, they’re simply providing the cultural backing for a deeper, more insidious trend that’s wreaking havoc on the physical, hormonal, and biological foundations of masculinity across the Western world.
Perhaps the clearest indicator that masculinity has been endangered on a biological rather than merely cultural level is the drastic decline in male testosterone levels and sperm counts that has plagued men in America and the rest of the West for the past several decades. Reuters reported on one study conducted by Dr. Thomas Travison of the New England Research Institute which found that the average male testosterone rate has been declining at an astonishing rate of 1 percent every year since the 1980s.
Travison noted this shift was not simply the result of a natural decrease due to aging, telling Reuters, “The entire population is shifting somewhat downward we think,” with the outlet adding that “a 65-year-old man in 2002 would have testosterone levels 15 percent lower than those of a 65-year-old in 1987.”
Even more terrifying is the absolute free fall scientists are witnessing in sperm counts over the past several decades. A study titled “Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis” found, after studying 42,935 men, that sperm counts have plummeted a whopping 52.4 percent between 1973 and 2011, now on pace to approach zero in the middle of the century.
Last year, Dr. Shanna Swan and Stacey Colino published a book focusing on this crisis, titled “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race.” In it, they warn of the potential consequences that are posed by our dropping sperm counts, noting that “this alarming rate of decline could mean the human race will be unable to reproduce itself if the trend continues.”
Swan also highlighted that this crisis is “posing serious threats to Western populations” specifically, further endangering countries that already have below replacement rate fertility and are not able to sustain their populations.
What Is Killing Masculinity, Femininity, and Fertility?
One source of this existential threat to masculinity appears to be not feminism but the food that we eat, the chemicals we absorb, and a wide variety of environmental toxins, specifically endocrine disruptors, that we come into contact with daily.
In “Count Down,” Dr. Swan explains that endocrine-disrupting chemicals, also known as EDC’s, wreak “havoc with the building blocks of sexual and reproductive development,” adding that “they’re everywhere in our modern world – and they’re inside our bodies.”
Take for example the seemingly innocuous and ever-present cash register receipt. The average person likely touches several a day. Receipts contain bisphenol-a, more commonly known as BPA, which can be absorbed into your body and has been found to have significant estrogenic effects.
Not just present in receipts, BPA is also often found in plastics, pizza boxes, and food cans, among a variety of other common items. Even items that are advertised as BPA-free often contain bisphenol-s, which is also suspected to have endocrine-disrupting effects.
While BPA exposure can have disastrous consequences for male sexual function and satisfaction, the ramifications can be even worse for women. One study found that women with high levels of BPA in their blood had an astonishing 83 percent higher risk of miscarriage in the first trimester than did women in the lowest quartile of blood BPA levels.
But BPA is not the only ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemical that’s undermining masculinity and disrupting our fertility. Flame retardants, which are frequently applied to furniture, carpets, clothing, mattresses, computers, and a number of different household objects, often contain polybrominated diphenyl ethers, which can take a multitude of different forms. Swan noted that PBDEs “exhibit a range of endocrine-disrupting activities, from estrogenic action to anti-estrogenic properties to antiandrogenic activity.”
Phthalates are a broad group of chemicals that are common in toys, medical equipment, artificial fragrances, soaps, and various other toiletries. “Count Down” reports that some phthalates can “decrease the production of male hormones such as testosterone,” which can harm sperm counts and make men infertile.
Atrazine is a “widely used herbicide” that’s most commonly used in the agricultural industry on sugarcane, corn, and sorghum. It is also used on residential lawns. A study from the University of California Berkeley discovered that frogs that have been exposed to atrazine experienced high rates of genital abnormalities, with the substance having a feminizing effect on male frogs. While it appears that the effect isn’t as severe on humans, there’s reason to believe it is still harmful.
While there are several other common chemicals that also pose a risk to masculinity and the fertility of both sexes, various lifestyle factors threaten to exacerbate the risk. Obesity, which has reached epidemic proportions in the United States, is simultaneously caused in part by low testosterone levels and while also acting to lower testosterone levels itself, creating a vicious cycle. A number of specific foods, including soy, flax, and vegetable oils, also allegedly have a detrimental effect on testosterone levels.
Here’s How You Can Defend Fertility, Femininity, and Masculinity
Given the effects and ubiquity of these harmful chemicals, it’s important to take real, actionable steps to defend yourself from the toxins that are killing our masculinity, femininity, and fertility.
This said, there’s no way to completely dodge EDC’s unless you take a page out of Henry David Thoreau’s book and retreat into the wilderness. Swan notes this, saying, “Chemicals are so pervasive in our modern world that it’s impossible to avoid them entirely,” before painting a stark picture when she elaborates “Even if you lived in a hygienic bubble, there’s a good chance that some of the materials used to make it would contain plasticizers, adhesives, or other chemical components that could have endocrine disrupting effects.”
There are, however, tangible steps that can be taken to limit your exposure to dangerous chemicals that should be taken by both men and women alike. The Silent Spring Institute’s app Detox Me is a “clean lifestyle guide that walks you through simple, research-based tips on how to reduce exposure to toxic chemicals…” The app allows you to browse various different categories so you can discover where EDC’s may be present in our diets, cleaning products, clothing, and various other places.
These practical steps are all informed by a sad realization that in many ways, we simply aren’t adapted for the world that we live in. For the time being, the answer is simply to live a more natural life, exercise more, and avoid unnatural chemicals and products whenever possible.
Unless large-scale political action is taken on this front to defend consumers from EDC’s like the European Union has on occasion, it will be the responsibility of consumers to ensure that toxins don’t kill our fertility, femininity, or masculinity.