Cell phone use and male fertility

A recent study has suggested that cell phone use might be associated with infertility by causing abnormalities in the semen analysis.

Cell phones and male infertility – could there be a link?

Cell phones are commonly used by both males and females. It is estimated that there are over 700 million cell phone users in the world. Mobiles phones contain small transmitters that emit radio frequency electromagnetic waves (EMW). These phones operate at different frequencies in different countries and continents. Analog phones operate at 450–900 MHz, digital phones (Global System for Mobile Communications [GSM]) at 850–1900 MHz, and third-generation phones at approximately 2000 MHz. Higher frequency phones result in greater exposure to the body. Reports of potential adverse effects of radio frequency EMW from cell phones have appeared in the news in recent months.

The results of animal studies have yielded conflicting results. One study in mice, found that radio frequency EMW had harmful effects on the cells that produce sperm but another study found no harm. A study in rates did not find any adverse effect of cell phone exposure on sperm count, morphology, or the microscopic appearance of the testicles.

There have been two previous studies on this subject in human men. One recent study on 371 men undergoing infertility evaluations, found that increasing duration of possession and the daily transmission times of cell phones was associated with a lower proportion of sperm with rapid forward movement and an increase in the proportion of slow moving sperm.  The second study looked at only 13 men. They found that  using GSM phones for 6 hours per day for 5 days decreased the numbers of sperm with fast, forward movement.

New Study on Cell Phone Use and Sperm

The study examined 361 men who were being seen at an infertility clinic from September 2004 to October 2005. The average age of these men was 31-21. .Importantly, men who had a history of tobacco or alcohol  use were excluded.  Men with other medical problems that could affect their sperm were also excluded.

The men in the study collected a semen specimen after an abstinence period of 5 days. The information on cell phone usage was obtained and they were divided into 4 groups according to the daily duration of use.

  • Group A: no use (40 men)
  • Group B: Less than 2 hours per day (107 men)
  • Group C: 2–4 hours per day (100 men)
  • Group D: More than 4 hours per day (114 men)

The technicians analyzing the semen samples did not know the patients cell phone use.

Results: Cell phone use linked with sperm abnormalities

When analyzed, there was a correlation found with increasing duration of cell phone use and abnormalities in the semen analysis. Specifically, sperm count, percentage motility, viability, and normal morphology were worse in the groups that  reported higher cell phone use. But as the graph below shows, there was no difference found in the volume of ejaculate, the time it took sperm to liquefy, the pH or viscosity of the semen.    

Effects of cell phone use on sperm


It is difficult to say how great a danger cell phones may cause toward male fertility. First, the study has several limitations that make it difficult to rely on the results. For example, the researchers did not actually verify the amount of cell phone use that the men reported. Very importantly, they did not take into account the occupations of the men and whether they might have had EMW exposure from other sources such as radio towers, PDAs, Bluetooth devices or computers. They also did not report whether the men predominantly used their cell phone by holding them to their ears or when attached to the waist using an ear phone. Theoretically, due to the closer proximity, a cell phone attached to the waist during use might result in increased EMW exposure to the testicles.

Furthermore, although the use of cell phones may cause a decrease in some sperm parameters, this does not necessarily correlate with infertility. For example,  the average sperm count in the group that reported no cell phone use was 85 million sperm per mL. The concentration in the group that reported more than four hours per day of use was about 50 million per mL. This is still well above the level that is considered normal which is 20 million sperm per mL.

More studies on this subject are clearly needed. Until we have better data, it seems reasonable to recommend to men who are trying to conceive that they should try to limit their cell phone use. Alternatively, keeping the cell phone away from the testicles may also offer some protection.