Wi-Fi, Sperm Counts and Fertility

Maybe it’s time to rename the “laptop” computer something else and keep if off our laps (how about mobile computers or “mobees”?). First we hear that they generate heat that elevates scrotal temperature, and now the Wi-Fi radiation itself may be a problem.

The Effect of Wi-Fi on Sperm

The Wi-Fi issue was published last week and has my patients all worked up. In this Argentinean study, researchers placed one half of the semen samples from 29 healthy men under a laptop connected to the Internet via Wi-Fi. They put the other half far away from a Wi-Fi equipped computer. A better control group would have been to keep the control sperm under the computer like the exposed sperm but with the computer turned on but disconnected to Wi-Fi. The temperature of the sperm dishes was kept constant, so any effect would not be thermal in nature. After four hours, 25% of the sperm exposed to Wi-Fi stopped moving forward, and 9% showed DNA damage. In contrast, only 14% of the sperm placed some distance from the Wi-Fi equipped computer stopped moving forward and 3% showed DNA damage.
Importantly, the proportion of sperm that was dead was exactly the same in each case, so the exposure did not actually kill the sperm. The biggest difference they found was that sperm exposed to Wi-Fi lost the ability to move forward purposefully. It would have been a better study if these sperm were then followed for 4 more hours without exposure to Wi-Fi to see if there was a recovery of motility. The authors “speculated” that Wi-Fi could affect male fertility.

An Alternate View of Wi-Fi and Sperm

Does this bench top test accurately reflect real life biology? Hardly. Is this the natural environment of sperm, bare-naked in a half ounce of fluid spilled onto a computer with Wi-Fi all around? No, but I guess it depends what kinds of websites the computer’s owner is perusing and what kind of personal activity that it generates. So, it’s really impossible to infer that a man using a laptop with Wi-Fi on his lap for more than four hours will be less fertile.
A lesson in electromagnetic fields (EMFs) might better convince you of this belief. The strength of Wi-Fi (wireless fidelity) and W-LAN (wireless local area network) electromagnetic fields is considered weak. Although Wi-Fi moves data quickly, it emits very weak signals that do not travel very far. Typically only 30 to 200 mW of power is emitted from Wi-Fi devices. For a comparison, below is a list of power levels associated with devises that we normally hold near our heads:
Blue tooth headset 100 mW
Cell phone               200-600 mW
CB radio                   4000 mW
In addition, Wi-Fi operates at far lower power densities (2.4 to 5 GHz) than cell phones (900MHz to 1.9 GHz). Lastly, the power density, and therefore any effect, from Wi-Fi (as with any other form of energy) rapidly decreases with distance away from the Wi-Fi antenna, following the “inverse-square law.” Thus overall, the exposure from Wi-Fi is 10-fold less than cell phone exposure, as one normally does not hold the Wi-Fi antennae that close to the body – as is done with cell phones.
So if you want to, worry about cell phones and blue tooth headsets rather than Wi-Fi networks in terms of exposure and health. Honestly, there is no real evidence yet that exposure to radio signals from Wi-Fi adversely affects any health issue in the general population. Maybe if we wore computers like hats or kept them in our underwear we might be at risk…maybe. For now, put a pillow between your privates and your laptop.