When it comes to male infertility, chances are you would have been kept in the dark. Contrary to public perception and media appropriated stereotypes, men are just as likely as females to be ‘infertile’, with 50 % of ‘UK couples’ needing IVF treatment due to the male being ‘infertile’. Yet in a study conducted by DR Liberty Barnes who was researching ‘male infertility’ for her book ‘ Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity’ the acclaimed sociologist found that ‘men are rendered invisible in our collective imagination when it comes to reproduction’ which makes sense considering considering the lack of resources that are geared towards men who are infertile. But why are we so oblivious to male infertility rates and why has the government not granted men access to resources that will enable them to learn more about how infertility can occur and the steps that they are able to take with their partner to have children should they desire it?
It’s simple really; we live in a society that ‘celebrates male virility’ and women are ‘often shamed for being infertile’ despite both men and women accounting for 50% of the ‘infertile population’. But what Liberty Barnes does not take into account is how ‘men who are infertile’ are also made to feel ‘ashamed’ because it questions their ‘virility’ and ‘masculine prowess’ in the bedroom and yet, there are next to no media reports, TV Shows or other forms of media that ‘acknowledge male infertility’ and the consequences it can have on a mans mental health, wellbeing and even physical health.
It means that men are often forced to live with the stigma of being infertile and can often become distant, withdrawn and in some cases depressed. When speaking to anonymous male readers who were infertile, they told me that they had become disappointed in the lack of coverage and awareness raised about the effect of male infertility on physical and mental health and believed that more measures needed to be put into place, to address why ‘men had been rendered invisible in our collective and media imagination’. The question is therefore, if noone is speaking about male infertility, then how could we remedy that? How do we raise awareness of an issue that is still riddled with ‘stigma’ and despite medical practitioners best efforts, many men who are infertile are too worried to come forward for fear of being judged?
- Utilize resources that give men who are infertile or sub-fertile more information about how ‘male infertility’ is caused – From websites centered around male reproductive systems and how the process of ‘sperm’ works during intercourse to frank and open discussions on how male infertility is caused, its never too late to raise awareness.
The Major Causes Of Male Infertility
More than 90 % of male infertility is caused by ‘low sperm counts’ or low quality sperm but other factors include anatomical problems, hormonal imbalances, and genetic defects.
Anatomical problems can range from ‘Undescended testicles’ to problems with sexual intercourse, but regardless of why you are unable to have a child, there is nothing to be ashamed of. Its more common than you may think and in most cases there is always a treatment available. Anatomical issues like ‘undescended testicles occur during ‘fetal development’ where one or both testicles fail to descend from the abdomen into the sac that normally contains the testicles (scrotum), whereas anatomical problems like being unable to maintain an erection during intercourse can be due to Erectile Dysfunction or anatomical abnormalities such as having a urethral opening beneath the penis (hypospadias) can also reduce infertility rates . Other anatomical problems can include Varicocele which is a swelling of the veins that drain the testicle and is the most common reversible cause of male infertility.
Hormonal Imbalances are also a common cause of male infertility but like ‘anatomical problems’ are often easily treated. Common hormone imbalances can include low testosterone (male hypogonadism) or an abnormality affecting hormonal systems like the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands.
Some cases of male infertility can be caused by Chromosome and Genetic Defects like Klinefelter’s Syndrome and Kartagener’s syndrome, which are associated with infertility. Klinefelter’s Syndrome is where a male is born with two X chromosomes and one Y chromosome (instead of one X and one Y) — which causes abnormal development of the male reproductive organs. Kartagener’s Syndrome on the other hand is an autosomal recessive inherited syndrome and can result in Male infertility due to an immobile spermatozoa (motile sperm cell) which are the male sex cells that carry a man’s genetic material. Because the sperm cells are immobile, it means that they cannot contribute their half of the nuclear genetic information to the diploid offspring. Other genetic defects that can affect male fertility rates include Cystic Fibrosis and Kallman’s Syndrome, which is characterized by delayed or absent puberty and is a form of hypogonadotropic hypogonadism.
Modern lifestyles are also major contributors to low fertility rates in men which can be affected by illicit drug use, obesity, alcohol abuse and emotional stress. Illicit drug use in particular can have an adverse affect on male fertility, where drugs like ‘weed’ or cocaine can lead to low quality sperm. Even anabolic steroids like Axiron and Androgel, which are often taken to increase performance in sport can cause the testicles to shrink and sperm production to decrease according to Mayo Clinic. Emotional stress is also related to low fertility rates and can interfere with hormones that are needed to produce sperm like the gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which is secreted by the hypothalamus and acts on the anterior pituitary gland.
What Treatments Can Men Undertake To Deal With Infertility?
Treatments & Remedies can include finding an anonymous or non-anonymous sperm donor, Assisted reproductive technology which is part of an IVF process called Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) and surgery in more extreme cases.
Treatments For Male Infertility
ART ( Assisted Reproductive Technology)
Assisted Reproductive Technology occurs pre-In Vitro Fertilization or pre intracytoplasmic sperm injection and involves taking sperm samples, either through ejaculation, surgical extraction or in some cases from donors. The sperm can then be inserted into the female genital tract or used to perform in IVF or ICSI procedures, depending on the case.
But How does ICSI Work?
ICSI is used to enhance the fertilization phase of in vitro fertilization (IVF) by injecting a single sperm into a mature egg. The fertilized egg is then placed in a woman’s uterus or fallopian tube.
In some cases, particularly if the male has Varicocele, surgery can correct most anatomical issues and even prior vasectomies can be reversed. Most male infertility cases do not need surgery to combat infertility but in more extreme cases like surgical trauma, epididymal blockage (caused by infection or inflammation, vas deferens blockage and ejaculatory duct blockage, surgery might be the ‘last treatment option’ that a male can take.
Anonymous or Non Anonymous Sperm Donor
If treatment does not work, you might be open to other options like finding an a sperm donor- whether that be anonymous or non anonymous or even adopting a child.
Therapy & Counselling
In some cases male infertility which has been caused by emotional stress or anatomical issues can result in a pervading sense of ‘guilt’, shame and inadequacy but there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Professionals recommend that issues like Erectile Dysfunction which is often a by-effect of emotional stress-and not always related to age- be treated through counselling and therapy to diagnose the cause of the anatomical problems.
What Are Your Thoughts On Male Infertility & Do You Believe That We Should Be More Open About It?
Please note this is a sponsored post in collaboration with Egg Donation Friends but all thoughts and research are my own and is not affected by monetary compensation.