When we talk about infertility what is the first thing that comes to mind? Do you think of a woman speaking to a specialist or waiting anxiously to find out if the attempts to conceive has been successful?
Or do you imagine a man in this situation?
Despite men’s reproductive issues accounting for 50% of infertility cases – making men just are likely as women to experience infertility – it’s normally been associated with women. Whether this has been due to adverts for fertility treatment showing women holding babies or more fertility treatments offered to women, there has been very little focus placed on infertility in men and the substantial emotional impact it’s having on them too.
There has always been this belief that men are the head of household, being the provider for their family.
Across the world, masculinity has been seen as the ability for men to handle difficult situations and to have children. This view has not only made the large number of men experiencing infertility feel ‘sub-human’, ‘unworthy’ and a ‘failure’ but it’s also attached a stigma which has made it harder for them to speak out about their struggles.
Research undertaken by Esmee Hanna, a sociologist based at De Montford University, demonstrated that just like women, men experience feelings of loss, anger, shame, frustration and guilt, where even harmless small talk about family life and seeing babies can have an impact on their feelings and mental health.
However, due to the stigma attached to men and infertility, has made it less likely for them to want to talk about their struggles, leading to them seeking infertility support anonymously or through the internet – and not always getting the right medical and mental health care they need.
With so much focus placed on women when it comes to infertility, some experts and health care providers have voiced this outdated woman-centric approach to fertility is having implications for both men and women.
For women this has meant being overtreated and subjected to invasive procedures, bearing the brunt of treatments, when in fact the issues lies with their partner.
Scientists have found not only has this exposed them to painful and possibly harmful medical interventions, with dangerous side effects like ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, stroke and increased risks to breast and ovarian cancer due to changing oestrogen levels, but it’s also fundamentally led to the only time when one gender has treatment for the other gender’s problem.
Side-lining men when it comes to infertility has also meant doctors have ignored what it is that has caused men to become infertile. In addition to this, tests for genetic abnormalities, hormone analyses and ultrasound scans which could help to understand what is impeding sperm production in the testicles or elsewhere, have rarely been offered to them.
The overall result of this side-lining has meant progress made in infertility treatments for men has been slow and little, with still little understanding in this area.
Specialists have highlighted that treatments just haven’t been developed to improve a man’s sperm count and are simply treating the female partners with something that most people in the world cannot afford.
So why is it important to rethink infertility?
Now more than ever it’s become important to rethink infertility. Firstly, with reproductive issues for both males and females able to indicate other illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and various research outlining premature death in men is linked to their reproductive health, male infertility should not be ignored.
Secondly and most importantly, we now face what is describe as a ‘global crisis in male reproductive health’. Over the last few decades sperm counts have more than halved for men in Western countries. At the same time, abnormalities in men’s reproductive systems and issues around sperm quality have increased – a result of pollution, plastics, air pollution, poor diets and chemicals present in everyday objects like canned food and water bottles.
It is therefore vital that we re-think infertility with equal support provided to both men and women to address the growing issue of infertility, not just in healthcare settings but also outside of this in communities, homes and workplaces.
We offer solutions to employers that enable them to offer fertility MOTs to their staff in the form of at-home sperm testing kits. Men can take the test from the comfort and privacy of their homes – and get to grips with their reproductive health.
Start a conversation with us today.