Here at Byrdie HQ, we think the idea of a “perfect body” is as outdated as snake-oil diet pills and spandex-clad workout icons. But that doesn’t mean we don’t talk about our bodies—the opposite, in fact. We’re all about body acceptance 24/7/365, but this week, we’re serving up some extra love: Meet Byrdie Body Week. Consider it a love letter to the weird and wonderful vehicles we inhabit, as well as a deep dive into all the body questions that plague us (such as Will my laptop really fry my ovaries?). We’ll also be spotlighting all that’s new in the product world (fake nipples—yeah, we’re going there). Let’s all agree to be a little kinder to our bodies this week (and month and year), no?
Somewhere along the road, an urban legend made its way into the ears of impressionable youths—women specifically—warning them that placing a laptop on their stomach will cause them to be infertile. The logistics of it are enough to believe it's valid—there's heat and, I don't know, technological emissions (?), which could, in theory, turn your eggs into an omelet. So if you're like me, and you tend to believe that swallowing gum will make your stomach stick together, and sneezing with your mouth closed will make your brain explode, then you, too, have probably placed a pillow between you and your machine in fear of never being able to have children.
Since this information was mostly schoolyard-verified, we decided to connect with a few gynecologists and investigate whether our laptops are, in fact, slowly killing us. In short, they aren't (yay!), but there might be cause for concern while watching a fifth consecutive episode of Master of None on your MacBook in bed.
"The field of study is relatively new, and I couldn't find concrete evidence that computer radiation affects fertility," says Sara Twogood, MD. "There are plenty of women who use laptop computers who have no problem with fertility. There are also women who use laptops that do have problems with fertility. There are numerous reasons a woman may struggle with fertility, and to 'blame' a laptop computer is not a comprehensive explanation. However, you could also argue because the field of study is new, we don't know the potential effects on fertility."
All things considered, Twogood thinks it wouldn't hurt to work and watch with caution: "I don't think we have scientific data to support recommending a barrier between a woman's lap and her laptop computer, but it's a reasonable precaution to take. All technology emits some sort of radiation—wifi signals, computers, cell phones, microwaves, etc. However, in our basic ob-gyn literature, there is no information that I found that supports limiting exposure to these personal devices for fear of fertility or other issues."
Edward Marut, MD, of Fertility Centers of Illinois, warns against placing a laptop on your stomach for women who are already pregnant: "Laptops can radiate heat, which theoretically can cause fetal damage in the first weeks of pregnancy, just like saunas, hot tubs, electric blankets, or exercises that raise the core temperature. That being said, raising the core temperature is not a guarantee for fetal damage or pregnancy issues, but it's a precaution to heed. There is evidence from Scandinavia that using the sauna in the first weeks increases the risk of neural tube defects."
Marut brings up another good point: While laptops won't directly affect your fertility, the sheer act of being on your laptop for hours poses an issue in and of itself: "There have been no studies or definitive proof behind technology damaging reproductive potential, although technology does exacerbate sedentary activity, which increases obesity rates, hindering fertility. It's best to get out, get active, and take a break from your technological devices."
Lastly, it looks like men should actually be more concerned about the correlation between laptops and decreased fertility than women: "In men, elevated scrotal temperatures have been linked to infertility," says Shefali Shastri, MD, FACOG of Reproductive Medicine Associates of New Jersey. "We know there are many factors that can raise scrotal temperature, including hot baths, saunas, and tight underwear or shorts. In a small study, following 29 men, the use of a laptop was found to increase scrotal temperature.
Given this finding, perhaps extended laptop use could be included in this list of risk factors of increasing temperature." As far as temperature goes, women are better protected: "For women, it's a different situation, as the oocytes are produced in a woman's ovaries and are found within the pelvic cavity. The oocytes are more protected within the body as compared to the male scrotum, and the same concern for an increase in temperature is not present."
TL;DR: Laptops will not directly make women infertile, but the radiation emitted from the machine, as well as inactivity associated with being on your laptop should be regarded.
Next up, take a look at the eight things a gynecologist wants you to stop doing during your period.