In honor of Men’s Health Week, June 14–21, we hosted the second installment of our Journey to Fatherhood series with a webinar about male infertility (see the first one here). Progyny is committed to ending the stigma about infertility and empowering those on the path to parenthood. To accomplish this, we must recognize infertility impacts men just as much as women.
Although strides have been made in the past few years to destigmatize the challenges people may face on the path to parenthood, male infertility still remains a taboo topic. This can make it hard for men and their partners to feel comfortable expressing their struggles. Yet male infertility is common; one in three infertility cases is caused by male factors, which is just as common as female factor infertility.
The Journey to Fatherhood: Male Infertility 101
Dan Bulger, Producer and Host of This is Infertility Podcast
Travis W. McCoy, MD, Director of Surgery and Male Infertility, Piedmont Reproductive Endocrinology Group
Althea O’Shaughnessy, MD, Reproductive Endocrinologist, Conceptions Reproductive Associates of Colorado
Myths of Male Infertility
Myth: Infertility is a women’s problem.
Fact: 30% of infertility diagnoses are male factor.
Oftentimes infertility is associated with women. However, for 30% of couples facing an infertility diagnosis, the cause is male factor. In fact, this is the same ratio of female factor infertility. Both male factor and female factor infertility are equally common, but men often get left out of consideration by the media when covering fertility. Because of this, if you and/or your partner are struggling to conceive, it is vital for both partners to be tested for infertility because between the two of you.
Myth: Men don’t need to worry about their age when it comes to fertility.
Fact: Age can also affect men’s sperm motility and production.
Men are born with a certain capability for producing sperm, and over time this does not usually change. However, the quality of sperm often decreases after age 50. Aging is linked to declining testosterone levels, and this will decrease sperm production. The quality of sperm can refer to their motility and their chromosomal structure. Just as women’s eggs see more chromosomal abnormalities as they age, sperm are the same way. As a man ages past 50, chromosomal abnormalities are much more likely—increasing a child’s risk for down syndrome or other chromosomal diseases.
Myth: Infertility and impotency are the same condition.
Fact: Infertility and impotency are very different.
Impotency means difficulty with sexual function, such as maintaining an erection. Male infertility is linked to dysfunction in either sperm production or the sperm itself, and can be overcome through lifestyle adjustments and, in some cases, surgical treatment. The common thread between the two is that hormonal abnormalities (either signaling or in specific hormone levels) can lead to both conditions.
Reasons for Male Infertility
Male Infertility Risk Factors
Generally, men have no clue they have male factor infertility until they are trying to conceive. And for those who do face infertility, there are some common trends among their presentations:
Low percent of mobile and healthy-looking sperm.
Use of drugs and alcohol.
High blood pressure.
History of cancer or diabetes treatment.
Age (>50 years).
Even if none of these apply to you, it is vital to consider proactive fertility testing. Going to a fertility specialist for testing can be even more crucial if:
You have low levels of testosterone.
You’ve never fathered a child before.
You’ve been trying to conceive for over 6 months.
There is no way to test for male infertility apart from an initial sperm analysis. While this task can raise a number of emotions, it is important to keep in mind the process is short, noninvasive, and fairly inexpensive.
Once diagnosed, common treatment options like IUI and IVF exist to allow you and your partner to expand your family as planned—regardless of your male factor infertility. In addition, if you’ve had one, reversing a vasectomy may be an option.
How to Take Action Over Your Fertility and Health
Taking control of your fertility and health can be uncomfortable but it’s incredibly important. Here are some tips on how:
Be proactive. The first step is thinking about when you want to have children and what that timeline looks like for you.
Educate yourself on some of the factors that might increase your risk for male infertility (drinking, smoking, etc.).
Talk to your doctor and/or pursue fertility testing.
Make any lifestyle adjustments you can to increase your chances of a successful pregnancy. This can look like weight loss, abstaining from smoking/drinking, exercising more frequently, and sometimes changing your diet. Doctors will often make sure you have enough antioxidants in your diet and might suggest supplements (vitamin C, E, D, selenium, folate, etc.). In either case, be sure to consult with your doctor. Research has given mixed results about the efficiency of these supplements so it’s important to talk to your doctor before starting any type of supplement.
Lifestyle adjustments can help individuals feel like they have more control over their fertility. At the end of the day, fertility is out of everyone’s control, making these adjustments can be empowering. In addition, if you have been trying to conceive and adapt lifestyle changes to improve your odds, it is important to know it can take between 3 to 12 months for these changes to have an impact.
And while it can easily feel like you and your partner’s struggle to conceive is your fault, infertility is no one’s fault or choice. It is a disease. Being aware of your risk and your health is a great first step in understanding where you stand and how your family planning might need to adapt.
If you missed the first part of the Journey to Fatherhood series, you can watch it on-demand: Journey to Fatherhood: Finding Support in the Journey. If you’re interested in the final installment in the series, Journey to Fatherhood: Same-sex Couples + Single Fathers by Choice, register here today.