A new study suggests that reports of the impending infertility of the human male are greatly exaggerated.
- A new review of a famous study on declining sperm counts finds several flaws.
- The old report makes unfounded assumptions, has faulty data, and tends toward panic.
- The new report does not rule out that sperm counts are going down, only that this could be quite normal.
Several years ago, a meta-analysis of studies on human fertility came out warning us about the declining sperm counts of Western men. It was widely shared, and its findings were featured on the covers of popular magazines. Indeed, its findings were alarming: a nearly 60 percent decline in sperm per milliliter since 1973 with no end in sight. It was only a matter of time, the authors argued, until men were firing blanks, literally.
Well… never mind.
It turns out that the impending demise of humanity was greatly exaggerated. As the predicted infertility wave crashed upon us, there was neither a great rush of men to fertility clinics nor a sudden dearth of new babies. The only discussions about population decline focus on urbanization and the fact that people choose not to have kids rather than not being able to have them.
Now, a new analysis of the 2017 study says that lower sperm counts is nothing to be surprised by. Published in Human Fertility, its authors point to flaws in the original paper's data and interpretation. They suggest a better and smarter reanalysis.
Counting tiny things is difficult
The original 2017 report analyzed 185 studies on 43,000 men and their reproductive health. Its findings were clear: "a significant decline in sperm counts… between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50-60 percent decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand."
However, the new analysis points out flaws in the data. As many as a third of the men in the studies were of unknown age, an important factor in reproductive health. In 45 percent of cases, the year of the sample collection was unknown- a big detail to miss in a study measuring change over time. The quality controls and conditions for sample collection and analysis vary widely from study to study, which likely influenced the measured sperm counts in the samples.
Another study from 2013 also points out that the methods for determining sperm count were only standardized in the 1980s, which occurred after some of the data points were collected for the original study. It is entirely possible that the early studies gave inaccurately high sperm counts.
This is not to say that the 2017 paper is entirely useless; it had a much more rigorous methodology than previous studies on the subject, which also claimed to identify a decline in sperm counts. However, the original study had more problems.
Garbage in, garbage out
Predictable as always, the media went crazy. Discussions of the decline of masculinity took off, both in mainstream and less-than-reputable forums; concerns about the imagined feminizing traits of soy products continued to increase; and the authors of the original study were called upon to discuss the findings themselves in a number of articles.
However, as this new review points out, some of the findings of that meta-analysis are debatable at best. For example, the 2017 report suggests that "declining mean [sperm count] implies that an increasing proportion of men have sperm counts below any given threshold for sub-fertility or infertility," despite little empirical evidence that this is the case.
The WHO offers a large range for what it considers to be a healthy sperm count, from 15 to 250 million sperm per milliliter. The benefits to fertility above a count of 40 million are seen as minimal, and the original study found a mean sperm concentration of 47 million sperm per milliliter.
Healthy sperm, healthy man?
The claim that sperm count is evidence of larger health problems is also scrutinized in this new article. While it is true that many major health problems can impact reproductive health, there is little evidence that it is the "canary in the coal mine" for overall well-being. A number of studies suggest that any relation between lifestyle choices and this part of reproductive health is limited at best.
Lastly, ideas that environmental factors could be at play have been debunked since 2017. While the original paper considered the idea that pollutants, especially from plastics, could be at fault, it is now known that this kind of pollution is worse in the parts of the world that the original paper observed higher sperm counts in (i.e., non-Western nations).
There never was a male fertility crisis
The authors of the new review do not deny that some measurements are showing lower sperm counts, but they do question the claim that this is catastrophic or part of a larger pathological issue. They propose a new interpretation of the data. Dubbed the "Sperm Count Biovariability hypothesis," it is summarized as:
"Sperm count varies within a wide range, much of which can be considered non-pathological and species-typical. Above a critical threshold, more is not necessarily an indicator of better health or higher probability of fertility relative to less. Sperm count varies across bodies, ecologies, and time periods. Knowledge about the relationship between individual and population sperm count and life-historical and ecological factors is critical to interpreting trends in average sperm counts and their relationships to human health and fertility."
Still, the authors note that lower sperm counts "could decline due to negative environmental exposures, or that this may carry implications for men's health and fertility."
However, they disagree that the decline in absolute sperm count is necessarily a bad sign for men's health and fertility. We aren't at civilization ending catastrophe just yet.
User-driven sites lead to user-based bias.
Movements like #MeToo have drawn increased attention to the systemic discrimination facing women in a range of professional fields, from Hollywood and journalism to banking and government.
Discrimination is also a problem on user-driven sites like Wikipedia. Wikipedia's 20th birthday is on Jan. 15, 2021 and today it is the thirteenth most popular website worldwide. In December 2020, the online encyclopedia had over 22 billion page views.
The volume of traffic on Wikipedia's site – coupled with its integration into search results and digital assistants like Alexa and Siri – makes Wikipedia the predominant source of information on the web. YouTube even started including Wikipedia links below videos on highly contested topics. But studies show that Wikipedia underrepresents content on women.
Signs of bias
Driven by a cohort of over 33 million volunteer editors, Wikipedia's content can change in almost real time. That makes it a prime resource for current events, popular culture, sports and other evolving topics.
But relying on volunteers leads to systemic biases – both in content creation and improvement. A 2013 study estimated that women only accounted for 16.1 percent of Wikipedia's total editor base. Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales believes that number has not changed much since then, despite several organized efforts.
If women don't actively edit Wikipedia at the same rate as men, topics of interest to women are at risk of receiving disproportionately low coverage. One study found that Wikipedia's coverage of women was more comprehensive than Encyclopedia Britannica online, but entries on women still constituted less than 30 percent of biographical coverage. Entries on women also more frequently link to entries on men than vice-versa and are more likely to include information on romantic relationships and family roles.
What's more, Wikipedia's policies state that all content must be "attributable to a reliable, published source." Since women throughout history have been less represented in published literature than men, it can be challenging to find reliable published sources on women.
An obituary in a paper of record is often a criterion for inclusion as a biographical entry in Wikipedia. So it should be no surprise that women are underrepresented as subjects in this vast online encyclopedia. As The New York Times itself noted, its obituaries since 1851 "have been dominated by white men" – an oversight the paper now hopes to address through its "Overlooked" series.
Categorization can also be an issue. In 2013, a New York Times op-ed revealed that some editors had moved women's entries from gender-neutral categories (e.g., "American novelists") to gender-focused subcategories (e.g., "American women novelists").
Wikipedia is not the only online resource that suffers from such biases. The user-contributed online mapping service OpenStreetMap is also more heavily edited by men. On GitHub, an online development platform, women's contributions have a higher acceptance rate than men, but a study showed that the rate drops noticeably when the contributor could be identified as a woman through their username or profile image.
Gender bias is also an ongoing issue in content development and search algorithms. Google Translate has been shown to overuse masculine pronouns and, for a time, LinkedIn recommended men's names in search results when users searched for a woman.
What can be done?
The solution to systemic biases that plague the web remains unclear. But libraries, museums, individual editors and the Wikimedia Foundation itself continue to make efforts to improve gender representation on sites such as Wikipedia.
Organized edit-a-thons can create a community around editing and developing underrepresented content. Edit-a-thons aim to increase the number of active female editors on Wikipedia, while empowering participants to edit entries on women during the event and into the future.
Our university library at the Rochester Institute of Technology hosts an annual Women on Wikipedia Edit-a-thon in celebration of Women's History Month. The goal is to improve the content on at least 100 women in one afternoon.
For the past six years, students in our school's American Women's and Gender History course have worked to create new or substantially edit existing Wikipedia entries about women. One student created an entry on deaf-blind pioneer Geraldine Lawhorn, while another added roughly 1,500 words to jazz artist Blanche Calloway's entry.
This class was supported by the Wikimedia Education Program, which encourages educators and students to contribute to Wikipedia in academic settings.
Through this assignment, students can immediately see how their efforts contribute to the larger conversation around women's history topics. One student said that it was "the most meaningful assignment she had" as an undergraduate.
Other efforts to address gender bias on Wikipedia include Wikipedia's Inspire Campaign; organized editing communities such as Women in Red and Wikipedia's Teahouse; and the National Science Foundation's Collaborative Research grant.
Wikipedia's dependence on volunteer editors has resulted in several systemic issues, but it also offers an opportunity for self-correction. Organized efforts help to give voice to women previously ignored by other resources.
This is an updated version of an article originally published in 2018.
A new study shows that beauty standards affect whether or not accusers are believed.
- Sexual harassment is behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances.
- Results of a 2018 survey showed that 81% of women (and 43% of men) had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.
- According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, women who do not fit female stereotypes for beauty are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed.
What is the difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment?
Sexual assault is classified as any type of sexual activity (including rape) that happens without your consent. Sexual harassment is defined as behavior that is characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances.
How common is sexual harassment?
A National Study on Sexual Harassment and Assault from 2018 surveyed 2009 adults (18+). This included 996 individuals who identified themselves as female and 1013 who identified themselves as male. The results of this survey showed that 81% of women (and 43% of men) had experienced some form of sexual harassment in their lifetime.
The study conducted a series of 11 multi-method experiments, involving over 4,000 participants.
Credit: Andrey Popov / Adobe Stock
According to a new study published by the American Psychological Association, women who do not fit female stereotypes for beauty are less likely to be seen as victims of sexual harassment, and if they claim they were harassed, they are less likely to be believed.
"Sexual harassment is pervasive and causes significant harm, yet far too many women cannot access fairness, justice, and legal protection, leaving them susceptible to further victimization and harm within the legal system," study co-author Cheryl Kaiser, Ph.D., of the University of Washington said in a statement.
According to Kaiser, sexual harassment claims were deemed less credible (and the harassment was perceived as less psychologically harmful) when it targeted a victim who was less attractive and/or did not act according to the stereotype of a typical woman.
The study conducted a series of 11 multi-method experiments, involving over 4,000 participants. It was designed to investigate the effects a victim's fit to the concept of a typical woman had on participants' view of sexual harassment (and the consequences of that mental association). In five experiments, participants read scenarios in which women either did or did not experience sexual harassment. Participants assessed the extent to which these women fit the idealized image of women, either by drawing what they thought the woman might look like or selecting from a series of photos. Across all experiments, participants perceived the targets of sexual harassment as more stereotypical than those who did not experience harassment.
In the next four experiments, participants were shown ambiguous sexual harassment scenarios which were then paired with descriptions or photos of women who were either stereotypical or not. The participants then rated the likelihood that the incident constituted sexual harassment. According to authors of the study, participants were less likely to label these ambiguous scenarios as sexual harassment when the targets were non-stereotypical women (compared with stereotypical women), despite the fact that, in some cases, the incident was the exact same.
The final two experiments in this study found that sexual harassment claims were often viewed as less credible when the victim adhered less to the typical female stereotype.
Even when a stereotypical woman and non-stereotypical woman submitted the same claim, it was deemed as less credible if the woman was perceived as less feminine. Additionally, the participants found the harassment to be deemed as less psychologically harmful when experienced by a non-stereotypical female.
"Our findings demonstrate that non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed may be vulnerable to unjust and discriminatory treatment when they seek legal recourse," co-author Bryn Bandt-Law, a doctoral student at the University of Washington, explained in an interview. "If women's nonconformity to feminine stereotypes biases perceptions of their credibility and harm caused by harassment, as our results suggest, it could prevent non-stereotypical women who are sexually harassed from receiving the civil rights protections afforded to them by law."
**If you or someone you know has experienced sexual harassment or assault, contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-4673. You are not alone.**
This small-scale study may have uncovered a new link between the peripheral nerve system and autism.
- Autism refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States.
- An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system may play a role in autism.
- The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture —more research is needed in this area.
Autism (commonly referred to as ASD, autism spectrum disorder) refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the CDC, autism impacts an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States—and because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges.
There is not just one type of autism, but many, according to AutismSpeaks.org. Most of these types are influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Autism is also often accompanied by various sensory sensitivities that can lead the person to experience sensory overload, which you can see a representation of in the video below.
The nerves that sense touch and pain may play a role in autism, new research suggests
An October 2020 study suggests that the peripheral nervous system (the nerves that control our sense of touch, pain, and other sensations), may play a role in autism.
Study author Sung-Tsang Hsieh, M.D., Ph.D., of National Taiwan University Hospital in Taipei and a Fellow of the American Academy of Neurology, explains to Science Daily: "More than 70% of people with autism have differences in their sensory perception. For some people, even a light touch can feel unbearable while others may not even notice a cut on their foot. If larger studies can confirm these results, it is possible that further insight into the peripheral nervous system could help us understand how this disorder develops and potentially light the way for treating these distressing sensory symptoms that most people with autism experience."
The study involved 32 men with autism (with an average age of 27). They were compared to 27 men and women (with an average age of 33) who did not have autism or any diseases that would impact their peripheral nerves.
The people with autism completed questionnaires on their sensory symptoms. All of the participants then had tests of their sensory nerves, including skin biopsies to look for damage to the small fibers of their nerves. Then, another test was administered, where heat pulses were applied to the skin so researchers could look at the electrical signals produced by the nerves to see how they responded to the heat.
53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density.
The results of the skin biopsy tests showed 53 percent of people with autism had reduced nerve fiber density, while all of the people in the control group (participants without autism) had levels in the normal range.
"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," said Hsieh.
The response to touch differed among people with autism according to whether or not they had nerve fiber damage.
According to the results, people who had undamaged nerves were more likely to say they disliked being touched and were uncomfortable with some textures, while people with nerve fiber damage were more likely to say that they preferred going barefoot and could be unaware that they had gotten scratched or bruised.
"This indicates that the nerves have degenerated, similar to what happens for people with the condition of peripheral neuropathy, where the threshold for feeling heat and other sensations is higher than for other people," Hsieh explained in his interview.
The parameters of the study may not show the entire picture—more research is needed in this area.
No, being interested in BDSM does not mean you had a traumatic childhood.
- BDSM is a kind of sexual expression and/or practice that refers to three main subcategories: Bondage/Discipline, Dominance/submission, and Sadism/Masochism.
- It has been widely speculated that many BDSM practitioners or people who enjoy the BDSM lifestyle are drawn to it because of sexual trauma they experienced in the past.
- This 2020 study claims that BDSM practitioners deserve perception as normal sexual practice free from stigmatization rather than deviant behavior.
BDSM is a kind of sexual expression or practice that refers to three main subcategories:
- Bondage and Discipline (BD)
- Dominance and submission (DS)
- Sadism and Masochism (SM)
It has been widely speculated that many BDSM practitioners or people who enjoy the BDSM lifestyle are more drawn to the kinky lifestyle because of sexual trauma they have experienced in the past.
A 2020 study smashed this myth by surveying 771 BDSM practitioners and 518 non-practitioners from the general population. These participants all completed a survey assessing BDSM interests as well as the Brief Trauma Questionnaire that is used to gauge traumatic events, and the Relationships Questionnaire that is used to assess a person's attachment style.
What is the Brief Trauma Questionnaire?
The BTQ, as it's referred to by the National Center for PTSD, is a self-report questionnaire derived from the Brief Trauma Interview. This questionnaire is used to assess whether an individual has had an event that meets the criteria for traumatic events.
What is the Relationships Questionnaire?
The RQ, as it's referred to by the Fetzer Institute, is a four-item survey designed to measure adult attachment styles. There are four main attachment styles: secure, dismissive-avoidant, anxious-preoccupied, and fearful-avoidant. This article does a wonderful job summarizing the various attachment styles by comparing them to relationships on the television show "How I Met Your Mother."
No, being interested in BDSM doesn’t mean you had a traumatic childhood
While many may assume being interested in BDSM may mean you've experienced unhealthy or violent relationships/situations in your formative years, this study explains why that myth should be put to rest.
BDSM practitioners across the study scored higher levels of physical abuse in adulthood. However, no significant differences emerged for other traumatic experiences (including childhood physical abuse or unwanted sexual trauma).
There have been many accounts (such as this) from BDSM practitioners that have claimed there is a certain "healing process" involved in finding a trustworthy BDSM relationship after escaping from a toxic relationship. This could account for why people who have experienced physically abusive relationships as adults then turn to the BDSM community and BDSM-related sexual interests.
When it came to the Relationship Questionnaire, people who engaged in the BDSM lifestyle more often scored in the "secure" attachment style than people who were not BDSM practitioners. While many BDSM practitioners had secure attachment styles, there was also a significant spike in anxious-preoccupied attachment styles when it came to people who practiced BDSM. In particular, the "secure" attachment style was associated with BDSM practitioners who identified as "Dominant" and the "anxious-preoccupied" attachment style was associated with people who identified as "submissive."
There are no findings to support the hypothesis of BDSM being a coping mechanism for early life dynamics or trauma.
This authors of the study claim that BDSM practitioners deserve perception as normal sexual practice free from stigmatization rather than deviant behavior—and the final results of the study support this idea.
Are people involved in BDSM practices more aware of their attachment styles?
Could people who engage in BDSM be more mindful in their relationships?
Photo by Tiko on Adobe Stock
While many people insist engaging in BDSM practices means you've had significant traumatic experienced that led you to do so, there are some experts that argue BDSM practitioners are actually more in tune with their own psychopathology than people who do not engage in BDSM activities.
BDSM involves a diverse range of practices which can involve role-playing games in which one person assumes a dominant role and the other assumes a submissive role. These activities are often intense and can involve activities such as physical restraint, power plays, humiliation, and sometimes (but not always) pain.
According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, people involved in BDSM may actually be more mentally healthy. The study suggests people who engage in BDSM activities often show more extroverted qualities and tend to be more open to experiences and more conscientious. They also tend to be less neurotic and less sensitive to rejection. The study also showed BDSM practitioners had a more secure attachment style, which is supported in the more recent study listed above.
Additionally, it's been hypothesized that people involved in BDSM are more mindful during sex than those who do not engage in BDSM practices.