When we think of infertility, it’s easy to think of it being a woman’s issue to deal with. But it’s thought that 20-30% of infertility is down to male factors, and with Father’s Day recently on our minds, perhaps we also need to consider male emotions when it comes to sensitivities around parenthood
According to a study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, “couples struggling with male factor infertility have a lower sexual and personal quality of life than couples for whom infertility is unexplained or is due to the woman’s biology”.
There is an element of women blaming themselves no matter what doctors may have discovered after performing tests on both partners. Some doctors, such as Dr Marie Davidson, a psychologist at the Fertility Centres of Illinois, say that some women “want to protect their male partner’s feelings, even if they don’t feel like it’s their fault”.
Men often like to delay seeking treatment
Dr Davidson says that male factor infertility can cause upset, arguments and conflict in relationships, due to men and women having different coping mechanisms. Women may want to seek fertility treatments as soon as possible due to worries over their egg quality diminishing. But men often like to delay seeking treatment, preferring to not allow it to cause so much worry.
She says, “There’s a lot of pressure on the male partner, because the woman is saying, ‘We can’t wait, my eggs are going to expire!'”
Dr Paul Turek, a urologist specialising in male factor infertility and sexual health agrees, saying that men struggle to handle a male factor infertility diagnosis. He says that men try to find a reason, such as “something that happened in childhood, like getting hit with a soccer ball, or some college indiscretion that caused the problem”.
The conversations around infertility tend to be geared towards women, so when it happens to a man, “it’s a biological identity crisis”
Men have described a diagnosis as debilitating, like they’ve let everyone down. One man told Insider, “The general expectation on men in society is that sperm are readily available and a man should just be able to produce them whenever. I know now this isn’t always the case, but that didn’t help me feel any better. My self-worth has been damaged: I honestly have a general sense of inferiority knowing this”.
Female medical sociologist, Liberty Walther Barnes asks, “How do ideas about gender, including women’s reproductive responsibility and the fragility of masculinity, become enmeshed in medical knowledge and practice? In our society, being a fertile male is associated with strength and manliness.”
Prevailing cultural beliefs
She writes about idioms such as “shooting blanks” in her book, Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity, saying, “Compare the idea of ‘shooting blanks’ to other colloquial jargon such as ‘grow a pair’ and ‘that takes balls.’ These fragments of language illustrate the prevailing cultural belief that healthy testicles producing potent sperm are a symbol of strength, courage, power, manliness and masculinity”.
So perhaps it’s time to consider the male side of infertility more?
We would love to know what you think. Are you a man struggling with your infertility? Do you feel ashamed of your diagnosis? Is it putting a strain on your relationship? Do drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org