Voices: If microplastics really do lodge in the penis, sod the planet – I’m sticking to bottled water

Scientists estimate  that, thanks mostly to food packaging, the average person ingests five grams of microplastics a week (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Scientists estimate that, thanks mostly to food packaging, the average person ingests five grams of microplastics a week (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

My Mum reads this column, so before I start, let me just say: hey Mum, I’ll visit soon, but you should probably skip this one.

Alright, now that she’s gone: I’m worried about my penis. I moved to London recently, and while the house is great, I wasn’t prepared for just how poor the quality of drinking water in our nation’s capital can be. As such, I’ve spent the past few months subsisting mostly on bottled water. I know, disaster for the environment, but it’s this or a cup of tea that smells like a sick dog. Besides, I recycle.

Unfortunately for me, and for anybody else in my position, new research has just discovered microplastics in penises for the first time. The announcement comes hot on the heels of similar research, which found microplastic in every semen sample tested in a recent study in Jinan, China.

If you’re unaware, microplastics are pretty much what they sound like – microscopic pieces of plastic below 5mm in length, though usually much smaller – and which can enter the human body when they are unwittingly drunk, eaten or even just breathed in. Some scientists have estimated that, thanks mostly to the use of plastics in food packaging, the average person ingests five grams of microplastics every week.

And now it’s in our penises.

Don’t get me wrong, if people want to put plastic in their bodies, that’s between them and their local Ann Summers representative. But microplastics have been linked to an increased risk of stroke and heart attacks, and these latest findings may indicate a role in erectile dysfunction. Sure, that last one may not seem quite as serious as those other two, but we’re just going to have to agree to disagree here.

What’s really worrying is that even if my tap water didn’t smell like a mix of onion and rotten eggs, it still probably wouldn’t free me from the scourge of microplastic-induced sexual dysfunction. Research has also found particles of the stuff in everyday drinking water, which means that every time you take a shower or make a Pot Noodle, you’re potentially introducing it into your bloodstream without realising.

So what can I do? The truth is… probably not much. We’re still in the very early stages of research about the prevalence and dangers of microplastics in the environment, which means that we don’t really know how bad they are for us, or if there’s any way to eliminate or even mitigate the dangers they pose.

Boiling water before you consume it may help, though if we’re being honest who has the time? Not to mention the potential energy wastage from boiling the kettle every single time you’re thirsty.

Water filters can also be effective, though you need to use very high-quality ones, which can be pricey. You should also avoid using plastic in your food storage and preparation, so say goodbye to all those leftover takeaway tubs and get yourself some high-quality glassware.

It’s often joked that we only really start to pay serious attention to health problems when they disproportionately affect men – bonus points if they affect men’s sexual health. A friend of mine would often say that if men could get pregnant, abortion wouldn’t be considered a contentious issue. You could probably get one done over the phone.

Maybe this research is what’s needed for us to finally take the risks microplastics pose seriously. Heart attacks don’t phase us, and strokes are just a fact of life – but if you tell us that we won’t be able to get it up anymore, it’s a national emergency.

In the meantime, maybe I’ll think twice before I buy another multipack of bottled water. Who needs to stay hydrated anyway? There are more important things to worry about.