Men Should Talk More About Infertility
Infertility, or a couple’s inability to conceive, is often discussed primarily as being a women’s issue. Male infertility, however, may be much more common than most people think.
The National Institutes of Health estimates infertility affects up to 15 percent of couples. About 11 percent of women of reproductive age have experienced fertility issues, compared to 9 percent of men.
Typically, couples younger than 30 and in generally good health have a 40 to 60 percent chance of conceiving after three months of having unprotected sex. However, after a year of unprotected sex, 12 to 15 percent of couples find they are unable to conceive, and that figure drops to 10 percent after two years of trying.
It’s estimated that the cause of infertility lies with the man in one-third of the cases, with the woman in one-third of the cases, and is either unidentifiable or because of both partners in the other one-third of cases.
Definition & causes of male infertility
Infertility can be related to sexual function or to semen and sperm quality. Some contributing factors to those issues include:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Low libido
- Sperm count (concentration of sperm in semen)
- Sperm motility (the ability of sperm to swim normally)
- Testosterone levels
While it’s well known that women’s fertility declines throughout their 30s and drops off steeply after age 35, men’s fertility declines with age, too, only more gradually. Here are a few other causes of male infertility:
- Genetic abnormalities
- Prior infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea and mumps
- Undescended testicles
- Varicoceles, or enlarged veins in the testicles
- Hormonal imbalances
- Being overweight or severely underweight
- Other lifestyle factors, such as alcohol, drugs or poor diet
Why don’t men talk about infertility?
Even though it is a common medical issue, male infertility remains largely undiscussed—at least until a couple experiences trouble conceiving.
Some studies show that societal pressures centering on masculinity, virility and fatherhood may influence how seldom men discuss fertility issues.
Other studies suggest a rather stunning cluelessness: The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) recently conducted a study of men’s attitudes regarding male fertility and found that half of respondents either were unconcerned with their fertility health or unaware that such a problem could exist. Although 42 percent reported having experienced fertility issues, more than 77 percent of the respondents said they had never taken a semen analysis.
Preparing for the future
If having a family is important to you, it’s counterproductive to simply ignore the issue of male infertility until the time comes when you and your partner want to conceive. You can take proactive steps to help ensure fertility health for whenever the day comes along:
- Get enough sleep. Inconsistent sleep patterns have been shown to lead to lower testosterone and sperm counts.
- Eat better. Male obesity can have a significant impact on sperm function, fertility and even the molecular structure of the germ cells in the testes that eventually become sperm.
- Exercise. Multiple studies show that men who get regular exercise have better semen quality and higher testosterone levels.
- Take vitamin C and other antioxidants. One study shows that men who took 1,000 mg vitamin C supplements twice a day increased sperm motility by 92 percent and sperm count by more than 100 percent after two months.
- Reduce stress. Stress raises cortisol levels, which in turn can have a negative effect on testosterone levels.
Above all else, men should talk with their partners and doctors about any fertility concerns. Male infertility is a common issue that can be easily addressed. Like all problems, however, it needs to be acknowledged before it can be solved.