When couples experience infertility, there’s often a misconception that the problem is the woman’s. But clinically, infertility issues are split evenly between males and females. Both male and female factor fertility issues each contribute to around one-third of all infertility cases. Each group is responsible for 30 percent of infertility, and the rest is attributable to a combination of both male and female factors or unexplained reasons. Therefore, it’s important to have both partners’ fertility checked if you’re having trouble getting pregnant.
Infertility is often incorrectly viewed as primarily a female issue outside medical circles probably because women talk more about their own infertility challenges. Actually more men than women tend to be either unaware or unconcerned with their fertility health. This may be because women are more likely to discuss their fertility struggles, or more willing to dig deeper into the causes of those struggles.
If a male factor is what’s making it hard for you and your partner to conceive, it’s important to understand what may be causing his infertility and what your options are. Some men don’t even like to visit the doctor for a regular checkup, but even though a man may not show it, he is as concerned as the woman. If you’re a man that feels uncomfortable or embarrassed about a doctor’s visit, you need your spouse’s support because you’re in it together.
Male infertility is a condition in which the male reproductive tract and sperm has diminished capacity to lead to the eventual fertilization of the egg to produce an embryo. Sometimes male infertility can be the sole problem for a couple trying to get pregnant, but infertility can also be caused by a combination of female and male factors.
The man may be unable to produce sperm or there may be structural abnormalities that partially or totally block the flow of sperm and/or seminal fluid can cause infertility. Many men may be born with abnormalities or the abnormalities may result from infection or trauma. Sperm production disorders are also a possible cause. When the production of sperm is inhibited it may cause low sperm count and decreased sperm quality. If there is lack of ejaculation or it is inhibited, it could prevent sperm from reaching the woman.
Like women, men can have abnormal thyroid or prolactin hormone levels, which can lead to impaired reproductive function. Luckily, these problems can be treated medically and fertility is often restored. Toxins from chemotherapy or radiation therapy are another culprit of infertility; they can severely damage testicles. While men often recover from this type of damage, it may take a few years, and in some cases the damage may be too severe. To determine if an underlying health issue is the problem with a man, a thorough medical history and physical examination may point to factors that may be behind his infertility.
Male infertility is usually diagnosed through a semen analysis, and for the most part, abnormalities are associated with the sperm. The sample will be tested for volume of ejaculation, sperm concentration, sperm motility (how well sperm move), and sperm morphology (the size and shape of the sperm). The diagnosis of male factor infertility often comes as a shock, as the inability to become pregnant is traditionally assumed to be a woman’s problem. This is a phenomenon that is often experienced as an assault on a man’s self-esteem and self-image, as much of society communicates that fertility and virility are linked. And so, if a man cannot impregnate his wife, the question is asked: is he really a man?
Infertility can affect even the strongest relationships. Whether infertility is identified as male or female factor, it’s a shared problem in a relationship. Different treatments are available depending on what is causing the problem, such as extracting sperm from the testicle to be injected into an egg for in vitro fertilization or washing sperm to be used during alternative insemination.
The journey to parenthood is different for everyone. Because male factor fertility issues are very common, men need to be educated and enlightened about the natural decline in sperm over time and to know simple steps they can take to prevent or manage infertility.
Typically, examining the causes of male infertility begins with analyzing the sperm. When any of the parameters such as volume of the ejaculate, concentration of the sperm, motility of the sperm, and shape of the sperm is off, the reason could be sometimes obvious. At other times, it may be more difficult to determine a cause.
The fact is that there is enough reason to be talking more about male infertility. One reason has to do with age. The older you get, the higher the chance you’ll need help to conceive, even as a man. Although men are talking openly about infertility more and more nowadays, thanks to fertility support groups that are involving the men more in the conversation, it can be better still. One positive aspect of identifying male factor fertility issues is that they’re typically easier to treat than female factor issues.
For instance, IVF can be successful with very low numbers of sperm; actually only one healthy sperm is needed to fertilize an egg. Even sperm that can’t swim can be injected into the egg. For men who are trying to conceive, one of the most effective ways to combat the stigma surrounding male infertility is to simply talk more about it. Even though male factor issues contribute to approximately the same number of cases as female factor issues, female factor issues get more attention.
However, as pointed out above, male factor fertility issues contribute to around one-third of all infertility cases in addition to one-third being a combination of issues between partners or resulting from unknown causes.
Whether infertility is identified as male or female factor, it is a shared problem in a relationship and should be addressed as a couple.
Changing the approach to male infertility starts with having a conversation. Admittedly, semen analysis and sperm counts aren’t the most enticing topics of conversation for most men, but if you’re having trouble conceiving, you may just need to have the talk with a fertility expert.