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As if the French were not already feeling heightened anxiety over president Francois Hollande's proposed tax increases, they – particularly the men – have now have to deal with the news that  "le sperme francais" ain't what it used to be.

Posted online yesterday in scientific journal Human Reproduction, the study suggests a decline in semen concentration and quality among French men.

And voila, their inferiority complex explained.

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But seriously, what might just seem like a blow to Gallic masculinity has larger implications. The study points out that semen quality is a marker of life expectancy and overall health.

Between 1989 and 2005, the researchers analyzed 26,609 partners of completely infertile women and discovered a "significant and continuous decrease in sperm concentration of 32.2%."

Over the 17-year period they also concluded a 1.9 per cent decrease in semen production.

The researchers believe these results reflect the overall population in France as the men, aged 18 to 70, were not selected with any previous knowledge of their sperm characteristics.

In addressing the wider implications of the findings, the researchers note, "To our knowledge, it is the first study concluding a severe and general decrease in sperm concentration and morphology at the scale of a whole country over a substantial period. This constitutes a serious public health warning."

The environmental link -- particularly endocrine disruptors, which can be found in food or plastic and interfere with the body's hormones – is believed to be of chief concern, followed by factors such as body mass index and stress levels.

Human Reproduction is the official journal of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology and is published by Oxford University Press.

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Naturally, early reactions in France to the study vary from legitimate concern to jocular innuendo.

"Get out your handkerchiefs; French sperm is also familiar with the crisis," goes the translation of a tweet from Le Nouvel Observateur.

In response to the magazine's article, one reader pointed out that sex isn't simply for procreation – that IMF directors (ahem Dominique Strauss-Kahn) enjoy it for pleasure.

Some Twitter users noted that this was yet another reason to consider leaving France.

The comments section of the article on Le Huffington Post (a French version launched in January) expressed little surprise often citing pesticides and obesity as factors. Others opined whether tight clothing is to blame – as in, skinny jeans and cycling shorts.

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