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The stigma around male infertility

Why is there a stigma around male infertility? What are the implications of male infertility on conception and for well-being? Is it time for more open communication and an improvement in male fertility testing opportunities?

Gender stereotyping

Traditionally, men went out to work and women stayed home to raise their children. It was seen as acceptable for women to be openly emotional and talk about their feelings, whereas showing emotions was seen as a weakness in men. This approach was perpetuated for years in sayings like, ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘crying like a girl.’

Thankfully, in more recent years, this unhelpful gender stereotyping has been challenged. Also, with many women working more and more men choosing to stay home with their children, couples are defining roles that suit their strengths and financial circumstances, rather than going with traditional expectations. In many couples, both partners work and both take equal or shared responsibility for childcare.


Talking about infertility

Although society has gradually changed in many ways and men are being encouraged to open up about their feelings more, fertility is an area where the gender gap is still very wide. Women are often open when it comes to talking about their struggling to conceive, whereas male infertility is rarely discussed between men, or quickly brushed off. Fertility and virility are not inextricably linked, yet many men fear they will be considered as less of a man if they are unable to father children.  Struggling with infertility and not feeling able to talk about it, can lead to men feeling isolated, depressed and having low self-esteem.

It's important for couples to discuss their feelings. Poor communication can increase stress levels, which in turn, can have a negative impact on sexual function. Both partners need emotional support when going through infertility problems, tests and treatment.


The gender gap in fertility research

This gender gap is also apparent in the lack of research of male infertility, compared with female infertility. Infertility treatment tends to focus on the female, even if the problem is actually due to issues with the sperm.

There are, however, other ways that male infertility issues can be resolved, without the need for IVF or intracytoplasmic sperm injections (ICSI).


How is male fertility assessed?

There are many factors that can contribute to male infertility. It’s important to conduct a full assessment of reproductive health, as sperm analysis is only a small part of the larger picture. A conversation about medical history, fertility history and any treated or untreated infections, may shed a light on why the couple are struggling to conceive and possible solutions.


The importance of sperm health

Sperm health is important not just for conception, but for the ongoing health of the child.

Both partners have equal responsibility when it comes to a healthy embryo. The lifestyle choices of the male partner, such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, excessive alcohol consumption and smoking can have a negative impact on the sperm and so can age.

Education about infertility in men is important, as new sperm are produced every 3 months, so a change of lifestyle can have a massive impact on a man’s fertility and on the subsequent health of their child.

Fertility testing can sometimes highlight issues that need treating for the man’s ongoing health, like low testosterone. However, it’s very important to note that being put on testosterone can actually reduce or stop sperm production, so it is advisable to wait until after a man has completed his family, before treating the condition.  

It's time for gender equality in the world of fertility, in terms of education, investigation, treatment and conversation. There needs to be the acknowledgement that men experience a range of emotions too, when faced with infertility issues, investigations and treatment. Openness and honesty with each other as a couple and with medical professionals is important for the well-being of both partners and to improve the chances of conception.  

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