Posted by on November 30, 2009 - 2:33pm

A recent article by the British news source, Mail Online, titled “Sorry darling, I can't do the vacuuming. It might damage my sperm count: The best excuse yet for men not to do the housework...” has generated media attention.  The premise is that household chores such as using a vacuum cleaner, microwave or refrigerator could reduce a man’s chances of having children.  The article explains that the high dose of electromagnetic fields produced by these household machines can drastically reduce the quality of sperm.  As implied by its title, author Nic Fleming concludes that we should think seriously about reducing men’s exposure to household chores involving electrical appliances.

The ‘facts’ of the story are a wildly embellished extrapolation from the research of Dr. De-Kun Li at Stanford University.  Dr. Li’s article, which will be published in January in Reproductive Toxicology provides evidence that exposure to high levels of magnetic fields is linked to a two-fold increase in the risk of poor sperm quality.  Sperm quality, for the purposes of Dr. Li's study, is defined by motility, morphology and concentration.  The study was performed on 148 men, 76 with low sperm quality and 72 with normal sperm (controls).  Study subjects wore electromagnetic field meters for a period of 24 hours to measure their exposure to magnetic fields with frequencies between 40-1000Hz.  The article does not mention specific machinery or household appliances and does not caution men against performing household tasks.  The authors do, however, reference other articles linking cell phone use to poor sperm quality.

So what about women?  If electromagnetic fields are capable of damaging male gametes, why wouldn’t they be damaging to female gametes?  In fact, a 2001 study published in Bioelectromagnetics indicated that low frequency magnetic fields have adverse effects on fertility in both male and female rats.  While other studies in both humans and other mammals have yielded inconclusive or conflicting results – it is important that we consider effects on fertility in both sexes.  If electromagnetic fields are in fact detrimental to our fertility, the implications for women are far greater than for men as men constantly replenish their sperm supply every 3 months.  Because women don’t create new gametes throughout their lifetime, any damage to female fertility presents a more permanent problem.  Perhaps it is women who should be exchanging the vacuum cleaner for a foot massage…