Polluting our environment sabotages our sexual development
I hate the term “the environment” because it suggests that it is something separate from us, like it’s “out there.” Yet the environment is a part of us. Our bodies, sexual development, sexuality and hormones are inextricably linked to nature, the moon and the ecological matrix. Our everyday choices influence our “ecological self.”
Even the smallest exposure to pesticides can mess with our fertility and hormones. Over-farming has been leading to a fertility decline in our soil. Over the past 60 years, human sperm quality and quantity has decreased, reproductive disorders have increased in wildlife and humans, and huge amounts of hormonally active synthetic chemicals are being released into our “environment.”
There are high levels of lead in the Inner West, especially. Many houses were coated in lead paint (especially in Stanmore and Leichhardt), which leaches into our soil and our bodies. Exposure to even small levels of lead can accumulate in male reproductive organs, decrease the volume of ejaculate and distort sperm activity. Lead exposure can lead to decreased height, low sperm counts, impaired semen, delayed or earlier onset of puberty, and infertility.
Similarly, pesticide exposure impairs human and animal hormonal and reproductive health, and disrupts the ovarian cycle and endocrine system. Phthalates – in air fresheners, cosmetics, soft toys, medical equipment and flooring – especially mess with male reproductive systems.
PBDE is another endocrine disruptor, and is a flame retardant used in cars, planes, foams, building materials, plastics and furnishings. The levels of PBDE in breast milk around the world are increasing – doubling in North American breast milk every few years!
Plastic food containers and water bottles contain BPA, which is an industrial chemical that imitates oestrogen and activates its signalling pathways in the body years after exposure, often lying “dormant” until puberty. Foetuses exposed to BPA can develop diseases such as endometriosis, endometrial, prostate and breast cancer.
There are legions of research into pesticide links to male infertility, but far less research into problems in women. However, researchers have found that women who work with pesticides have 100% increased odds of experiencing long cycles, missed periods and intermenstrual bleeding. Pesticide exposure can cause decreased fertility, spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, premature birth, developmental abnormalities and low birth weight.
The most commonly used pesticide in America and Australia is Atrazine, used on crops like corn, sugarcane, canola, eucalypt and pine plantation, and on lawns and turf like golf courses. It is banned in the EU because of how easily it contaminates rivers and ground and surface water.
Atrazine is still the most commonly found pesticide in drinking water in America, and it can cause anovulation, when the ovaries don’t produce an egg in a monthly cycle. It disrupts hormones in fish, reptiles, rats and human cells, and can cause birth defects and low birth weights in humans.
Atrazine causes demasculinsation of native male frogs, with tiny levels of atrazine in the water causing limb deformities, male tadpoles to grow into females, and “demasculisined” or “sex reversed” males that are devoid of testosterone or sperm creation abilities. This is not normal in frogs, and could be the reason amphibians are declining in numbers around the world.
Frogs thousands of miles from atrazine have been found with eggs in their testes; they couldn’t call for mates or mate with females as their testosterone was lower than that of female frogs, and so their voice boxes were much smaller. These sex reversed frogs are more commonly found in suburban and city areas where we flood our lawns with oestrogen-mediated contaminants.
It’s a warning we should be paying attention to.
The environment isn’t just “out there” – we are all part of an interconnected web of life. As we poison our planet, we poison ourselves.
Cat O Dowd
Sex Therapist – Relationship Counsellor – Art Therapist