In the United States, women sometimes still viewed as “responsible” for the reproduction process. This starts at conception and carries all the way into the child’s adult life. But the reality is, it takes two components to make a baby – sperm and an egg. And male infertility is just as common as female infertility. So, experts say it’s time we start talking about it.
“Infertility support groups, online chat groups, books, websites and blogs are led by women, written by women and geared toward women,” Liberty Barnes, a research associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge in the UK, told Medical News Today. “Men are missing from our collective imagination and social dialogue when it comes to infertility.”
For the last seven years, Barnes has been shadowing doctors in fertility clinics, trying to find out as much as possible about male infertility, how it is treated, how it is viewed in society and the men that suffer from it, and what support and education opportunities exist. Unfortunately, all of these facets of male infertility come up a bit short, Barnes says.
“The general public understands that male infertility exists, yet few realize that it is as common as female infertility. Most people know that male infertility can be assessed through a semen analysis. But many people are unaware that there are specialists who focus specifically on male infertility,” Barnes said, adding that “amazing research is being done now in the field of male reproductive science.”
Sperm and semen analysis, hormone evaluation, genetic testing and a physical examination are all options for determining the cause behind male infertility, and hormone replacement medications, antibiotics, and surgery that can help correct various problems. But, just like with female infertility, not all treatments will work. And, unlike female infertility, the range of options just aren’t as advanced or as focused on. In fact, some men aren’t even sure where to look when it comes to finding someone that can help them with infertility problems.
“Unfortunately, the historical focus on women’s bodies means that male infertility research has lagged behind,” Barnes said. “We have inherited a medical system and medical technologies that are primarily focused on women.”
Part of the lag may be tied to how male infertility is perceived, either by men themselves or by society as a whole. Susan Seenan, chief executive of Infertility Network UK, says that a lot of men view infertility as a threat to their masculinity.
“The fact that they can’t ‘fix’ the problem often means they won’t discuss the issue at all,” Seenan told Medical News Today.
Barnes paints a very different picture, however, sourcing society views as the main issue. She says that many men she’s seen say they don’t feel the condition is affecting their sense of masculinity, but they do feel that it is considered emasculating by those around them.
“While they understood that, in the broader culture, male infertility is considered unmanly, they carefully thought about their particular diagnosis and were able to make sense of it in terms that preserved their sense of masculinity,” she explained. “We presume infertile men are suffering deep anguish, but the truth is, male infertility makes everyone feel uncomfortable. Doctors, wives, families, the media, and everyday fold feel compelled to protect men from a crisis of masculinity like male infertility.”
And therein may rest the solution, or so the experts say.
“The press needs to become our allies in this area and focus less on celebrity stories and more on everyday folks,” Corey Whelan, program director at the American Fertility Association, told Medical News Today.
Barnes definitely agrees and says that anyone with an influential voice – the media, bloggers and doctors – can kickstart the process by talking more openly about male infertility problems. However, she also says that there have been gains, and she believes that more will come as society continues to take a more “egalitarian” approach to marriage, labor and parenting.
“Thanks to this kind of social progress, I noticed that younger men find it easier to acknowledge and openly discuss their infertility issues and are striving for a team approach to family building with their partners,” she said. “I believe we are progressing toward shared reproductive responsibility.”
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