There are health consequences to our clothing fetish. I’m not referring to the unhealthy mental association of nudity with sex—an association almost inevitable in modern culture since it is the sex organs that our laws prohibit from public view. As a result nudity—by definition—means exposure of genitalia and nothing else. Nor am I referring to our general animosity towards those very same sex organs, our insistence that this essential feature of our biology and its associated sexual feelings be treated with disdain, that it become the butt of our jokes and the source of our swear words.
Nor am I referring to the adverse health consequences of hiding human skin from the sun, something which has left billions of people around the globe with insufficient levels of vitamin D. Instead, I want to focus on another unhealthy consequence of wearing clothes: its likely contribution to birth defects.
A female human is born with her lifetime supply of eggs already complete. Those eggs are the product of about 33 cell divisions; that is to say her DNA was copied 33 times while she was a growing embryo and fetus. But with every copy, there is a risk of mistakes. When a woman grows up and her eggs are fertilized, copying errors, either from the DNA in her eggs or the DNA in the male’s sperm, can loom large. Such errors account for most of the spontaneous abortions and birth defects which occur in human societies.
Unlike females with their lifetime of eggs complete by birth, human males produce sperm their entire lives. Which means that a man’s DNA is being repeatedly copied in his testicles no matter what age he is. The process is called spermatogenesis. “About 40 cell divisions in the reproductive cells have occurred in the human male by the time he reaches puberty. After that, the DNA in his sperm is copied every sixteen days, or 23 times per year. A twenty-year old man’s genome has been copied more than 200 times, and a forty-year old’s more than 600 times.”(1)
Spermatocytogenesis is the name of first stage in spermatogenesis, and involves “stem cells dividing to replace themselves and to produce a population of cells destined to become mature sperm.”(2) During the second stage, called spermiohistogenesis, the spermatocytes resulting from the first stage differentiate and grow into mature spermatozoa.(3) The mature sperm are stored in the epididymides, an area at the rear of the scrotum, where they must be kept cooler than the rest of the body to prevent premature activation.
The temperature of a man’s testes is crucial to the copying process and the viability and motility of the sperm he produces. The ideal temperature for spermatogenesis is 34 degrees Celsius (about 93 degrees F) which is 3 degrees C (5 degrees F) cooler than basal body temperature. This is why a man’s balls descend from the body. If they get too cold, involuntary muscles contract, pulling the testicles up into the crotch and suffusing them with blood. If they get too hot, those same muscles allow the testicles to drop away from the body so they can be cooled by the convection of air around them. This is called the cremasteric reflex, but it isn’t the only mechanism for keeping the human scrotum at the right temperature for spermatogenesis. “Not only is the skin of the scrotal sack thin to promote heat dissipation…the arteries that supply blood to the scrotum are positioned adjacent to the veins taking blood away from the scrotum and function as an additional cooling/heating exchange mechanism.”(4)
After spermatogenesis is complete, the spermatozoa are stored in the epididymides, located on the back side of the scrotum closest to the body. Even at this point, maintaining the right temperature is vital. “Sperm, it turns out, are extraordinarily sensitive to even minor fluctuations in room temperature. When the ambient temperature rises to body temperature levels, there is a temporary increase in sperm motility (that is to say, they become more lively), but only for a period of time before fizzing out. To be more exact, sperm thrive at body temperature for 50 minutes to four hours, the average length of time it takes for them to journey through the female reproductive tract and to fertilize the egg. But once the spermatic temperature rises much above 37 degrees Celsius, the chances for a successful insemination consequently plummet—any viable sperm become the equivalent of burnt toast. So in other words, except during sex, when it’s adaptive for sperm to be highly mobile and hyperactive, sperm are stored and produced most efficiently in the cool, breezy surroundings of the relaxed scrotal sack.”(5)
The biological processes which evolved to control scrotum temperature and minimize DNA copying mistakes developed over millions of years. It is important to understand that these processes came into existence on the assumption that we were naked. Long before human beings invented clothing, human males regulated the temperature of their balls with the cremasteric reflex. It was a biological necessity to prevent undesirable mutations getting into the genome during those 23 cell divisions a year taking place in the testicles. This biological necessity remains with us still, but today this effort to ensure healthy spermatogenesis is thwarted because we make clothing mandatory; specifically, because we expect males to wear pants. This cultural fetish over clothing, including who should wear what, is an example of group insanity with tragic consequences. This is because “[i]n humans, chromosomal abnormalities arising from incorrect spermatogenesis results in congenital defects and abnormal birth defects (Down Syndrome, Klinefelter’s Syndrome) and in most cases, spontaneous abortion of the developing fetus.”(6)
Is this a real problem? Do copying error actually occur all that often?
Yes. According to scientists, the DNA of the average human conception today contains approximately 200 copying errors, of which the overwhelming majority are attributed to mistakes which occur in the testes.(7) In short, it is a significant problem. No studies, to my knowledge, have tried to measure the genetic damage specifically due to our cultural neuroses regarding nudity, or to estimate the percentage of birth defects caused by men wearing pants; nevertheless, the likely health effect is significant. Pants and underpants alter the surroundings of the scrotal sack from “cool and breezy” to confined and compressed. Worse, they force the testicles against the body, causing them to overheat even more. Boxer shorts don’t solve the problem because they must still be worn under pants which block off airflow, and are usually tight in the crotch area to show that a man has “something” there. But what he has there is a pair of balls which are overheating and damaging his sperm.
Our group insanity over clothing, our cultural insistence that men wear pants, has resulted in billions of scrotums too hot for healthy spermatogenesis, and has prevented equal billions of male bodies from naturally cooling testicles using air convection. Worse, pants and underpants have pressed those billions of testicles against the body, trapping air which then warms up from body-heat and further overheats those testicles. Not only has this reduced the sperm count and motility of billions of men, and caused innumerable DNA copying errors, but it also creates sweat and moisture which encourages fungal and bacterial infections. And—not inconsequentially—testicular overheating has caused men worldwide to feel less sexually alive and potent than optimal for human males. The modern world, for all we know, may be a significantly more violent and troubled place because of it.
What can be done? For one thing, it is undeniable that skirts, kilts, and dresses are more appropriate for the male anatomy than pants are. It would be wise if women wore the pants in the family, and men wore skirts and dresses—and moreover, wore them commando. It would be wiser still for human beings to become comfortable with the biological fact that we are bodies, and for us to embrace outdoor nudity. A man’s testicles need air, especially in hot weather, and our nonsensical, insane cultural attitudes about clothing have become an intolerable—and wholly avoidable—worldwide health risk.
Copyright 2016 Dwight Lyman [simultaneously published on Facebook]
(1) “Sex, Errors, and the Genome” sidebar “Mutations—Mother versus Father”, by Mark Ridley, Natural History Magazine, 6/2001, page 44)
(2) Wikipedia, Spermatocytogenesis https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spermatocytogenesis [captured Sept 24, 2016].
(3) http://www.embryology.ch/anglais/cgametogen/spermato03.html [captured Oct 2, 2016]
(4) Gordon Gallup, Mary Finn and Becky Sammis, quoted by Jesse Bering in Scientific American, “Why do human testicles hang like that?”, http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/bering-in-mind/why-do-human-testicles-hang-like-that/ [captured Sept 24,2016]
(6) Wikipedia, Spermatogenesis -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spermatogenesis [captured Sept 24, 2016].
(7) “Sex, Errors, and the Genome” by Mark Ridley, Natural History Magazine, 6/2001