Cell phones emit radiofrequency–electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) to transmit data for social media, web browsing, and music / podcast streaming. The advent of Bluetooth earbuds has presumably prolonged the amount of time the cell phone resides in the trouser pockets of men. This places the cell phone and its respective RF-EMR near the testicles for prolonged times. RF-EMR is considered an environmental pollutant and has been postulated to increase oxidative stress and induce free radical formation. Even though previous studies have demonstrated negative effects on sperm parameteres, the impact of modern smartphone technology and wireless spectrums (4G, 5G, and WIFI) on sperm motility has not been investigated. We hypothesized that RF-EMR from cell phones has deleterious effects on sperm motility and viability, though these effects can be mitigated with physical barriers or distance.
MATERIALS AND METHODS:
We studied the impact of RF-EMR on sperm motility and viability from fertile, normozoospermic men, between the ages of 25-35 years old by exposing their ejaculated semen in an in vitro study over a 6-hour duration. A current generation smartphone in talk mode (Whatsapp voice call), was utilized as the RF-EMR source. The call was made either through the 4G, 5G, or WIFI wireless spectrums. We determined if exposure effects were mitigated using either a cell phone case or increased distance from semen samples. Additionally, we placed semen samples within a 37 degrees Celsius incubator to assess for heat effects. We certified exposure to the specimen using a calibrated RF-EMR detection meter. Statistical analysis was performed using SPSS v.28. Continuous variables were presented as medians and interquartile ranges [25th – 75th], and comparison between groups was performed using the U Mann Whitney test.
We observed a decrease in sperm motility (50% vs. 38%, p = 0.024) and viability (60% vs 47%, p = 0.003) with WIFI. We did not identify a decrease in sperm motility and viability in semen samples that were exposed to 4G or 5G RF-EMR. As the smartphone with WIFI was noted to be warmer, we analyzed the semen samples within an incubator, and noted a decrease in progressive motility (40% vs 24%, p = 0.04). The addition of a case and increased distance with a smartphone on WIFI lessened the impact on sperm motility and viability (p = 0.01, p = 0.01), n = 18).
In this pilot, but adequately powered study, we observed that sperm motility and viability are negatively impacted with smartphones that utilized data on the WIFI spectrum. It appears that heat that is emanated from the device contributes to this effect, as the device was noted to be warmer than when phones were used only with either 4G or 5G. With large variability in smartphones, continued research on exposure effects is needed and the current association should be considered cautiously as hypothesis generating.
Cell phones with data usage through WIFI have deleterious effects on sperm motility and viability, with both RF-EMR and heat contributing to impact.