24 November 2014

Transvestite fish and male infertility

Kristian K writes:*

Superstition and misleading information regarding the Pill is abundant both from the obvious Catholic adversaries and extremist websites, but also in women’s magazines and protective parental blogs. “The Pill is a sensitive issue for many reasons” (My Girlfriend, 2014), and strong accusations against it including the risk of blood clogs, feminization of fish and male infertility only exacerbates this. To some extent such accusations do not come out of nowhere, but there is no clear evidence that the pill is the sole responsible factor. At best it is a contributor amongst many. However, this does not necessarily mean that the pill does not cause any environmental problems, only that we need to remain realistic regarding what we know and what we don’t.

The artificial hormone and EDC 17-alpha-ethinylestradiol (EE2) is a main component in female hormonal contraception. EE2 has been linked to for instance the feminization of fish, and has been found in damaging concentrations in freshwater American streams. Still, it remains unclear how large a responsibility can be ascribed to EE2 compared to other endocrine disruptors. A 2009 study found that feminization of fish could best be statistically explained by the presence of estrogen together with anti-androgens (used in for instance the treatment of cancers) or by anti-androgens alone.

Still, regardless of how large concentrations are in a given area, it has to be admitted that artificial estrogen, like other EDCs, can have severe adverse effects to animals and young humans. Therefore, a general solution should be found to limit the presence of EDCs, found in a variety of products, in waterways and the air. Another idea is to improve general water sanitation. This is difficult in places that do not have water sanitation already but it might be a possibility in places such as Europe or The US. In order to fund such a sanitation program, it might be possible to estimate the concentrations of the different EDCs in the water sources, and ascribe a fitting sanitation tax to the products, either at a consumer or producer level. We could also consider alternative contraceptives, for both males, females (and all in between).

Bottom Line: EDCs are a problem for the environment and we need a solution. Since birth control pills do contain EDCs, they should be considered as part of the discussion of how to mitigate adverse effects. As a man it seems almost hypocritical to ask women to use an alternative, since the idea of a temporary vasectomy or using the potential ‘male’ pill, does not sound particularly tempting to me. Still, surely there is a solution to this problem, but whether it should be found in alternative contraception methods or in better sanitation, begs the question. What do you think?

* Please comment on these posts from my environmental economics students, to help them with unclear analysis, other perspectives, data sources, etc.


  1. Hey Kristian,

    I googled this because I didn't know about the environmental impact of birth control, and found this page: http://www.arhp.org/publications-and-resources/contraception-journal/august-2011. I found it interesting that they outline other sources of EE2 in water, claiming that the effect is negligible. Perhaps an interesting read?

  2. Hello Kristian,

    Thanks for your article. I am a water resources engineer, female and familiar with the problems BC pills are causing the environment. I am a firm believer in protecting natural resources and in providing adequate birth control for anyone who wishes to utilize it. So, I ask myself how can that be? It seems so contradictory! There is an excellent, long term, effective solution that many do not know about or talk about - an IUD (intrauterine device). Women can have the non-hormone, device inserted an viola!, long term birth control without urinating hormones the body doesn't utilize. I have yet to see it offered as a solution to the BC pill problem (I'm sure it has but maybe as a society we're afraid to talk about it). Idk…just thought I'd share. Thanks for listening.

  3. Laura, thanks for your input, I actually have considered suggesting the IUD's as an alternative. My only problem is that I am not sure how girls would feel about this option. Some suggest its best as a long term solution after potentially desired pregnancies, whereas other sources suggest that this does not matter. As a man I feel uncomfortable with the thought of a reversible vasectomy so I don't know if women would feel the same about IUD's.

  4. Hi Kristian,

    Interesting post, I never considered that hormones from the pill could affect the environment in such a way. While it is clear that EDC's are bad for the environment,I'm not sure whether this would actually convince people to stop using the pill, especially when it is not clear precisely how big its influence is.You mention that other contraception options might not be so attractive as the pill and I think this is a very valid point. I wanted to add that many women don't just take the pill as a contraception method, but also use it to regulate their hormonal levels, and treat issues such as severe cramps or acne. Perhaps you could mention this as an additional benefit of the pill in your CBA?

  5. Hi Kristian,

    Thanks for your reply. Iris made a good point that BCPs are also often used for menstrual regulation, cramps, etc. IUDs offer those same alternatives. I'm not really trying to debate that, just trying to point out that there are other alternatives available. Your comment about a reversible vasectomy is hysterical! There's a world of difference between a small copper ring inserted in a uterus versus an outpatient procedure for men. If I was a man, I might be leery too. It's hit or miss for women as far as initial pain for the IUD insertion. Personally, the cramps afterward were awful however, I'd do it again in a heartbeat! No more remembering to take a pill alone is worth it :)

    Thanks! Laura


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