When a couple fails to conceive naturally (within 6 months if the female partner is over the age of 35 and within a year if under 35) tests can be carried out on both partners, to try to diagnose any barriers to conception. 

Sometimes, tests reveal no apparent cause and this is referred to as ‘undiagnosed infertility.’ 

The term ‘infertility’ suggests that conceiving is impossible, yet for many people diagnosed with it, this isn’t the case, it just means that assisted reproductive techniques (ART) may be necessary.   

What can cause male infertility?

Pre-existing medical conditions, genetics and certain prescribed medication can all be a cause of male infertility. However, lifestyle factors, including lack of exercise, smoking, taking drugs, a poor diet, heavy drinking and working with chemicals, can also decrease fertility in men. Making positive lifestyle changes can often make a dramatic change in male fertility. As new sperm are constantly being created, with the right changes, sperm quality can increase quickly, in just a few months.  

What tests might be carried out to find out if I’m infertile?

If you have a partner, it’s a good idea to bring them along to your fertility consultation, as the consultant can also ask them any questions at the same appointment.  

For the consultant or doctor to build up a full picture, they will ask a series of questions about your medical history, including any surgery you may have had as a child or adult. They will also ask about your family medical history too and if there are any known genetic or fertility issues within your family.

A semen analysis can be conducted to check the quantity, shape and motility of your sperm. You will be asked to provide a semen sample in a cup, which is then analysed under a microscope.  It’s advisable to avoid ejaculation for a few days prior to giving the sperm sample.  

You may have a physical examination and also an ultrasound of your testicles if required.

How can male infertility be treated?

Fortunately, many diagnosed male infertility problems, like blocked ducts, retrograde ejaculation and varicoceles can be treated with either drugs or surgery. This enables conception to take place through normal intercourse, without the need for IVF.

ART (Assisted Reproductive Techniques) include IUI, IVF and ICSI. It is also possible to medically remove sperm from the testicle to use in ART if an inability to ejaculate is a problem. 

IUI involves sperm being placed into the female’s uterus, using a tube. This is helpful where sperm motility (movement) is the barrier. 

IVF involves using drugs to stimulate the ovaries before the sperm is added to the eggs in the lab.

ICSI is IVF with a carefully selected sperm injected into the egg.

How can counselling help if you are diagnosed with infertility?

Many men still feel that there is a stigma around male infertility, often associating virility with fertility, but they are actually very different things. Being unable to conceive naturally, does not make anyone less of a man and it’s important that men are given (and take) the opportunity to talk about their feelings and emotions and can get the advice and support that they need. 

Couples counselling can also help couples to improve their communication, understand how their partner is feeling (rather than second-guessing) and get the help they need to move forwards.

Here at the IVF Network, we understand that both infertility and treatment can be emotionally and physically challenging, as well as requiring a big financial commitment, in many cases.  Being armed with up-to-date information means that you will be able to make more informed choices during your fertility journey. This is why we provide that information through our website, blog posts and dedicated channel of experts who talk about all aspects of fertility.