Fertility Network chief executive, Gwenda Burns, looks at male fertility and the importance of getting men to talk about problems
Contrary to popular recognition, fertility is also firmly a male issue. Data from the fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show that the majority (37%) of couples seeking IVF or ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection) do so because of male factor fertility problems.
Just as Distressing for Men
Infertility is also as emotionally distressing and isolating for men as it is for women, as a Fertility Network UK 2017 survey looking at men’s experiences of infertility revealed. The majority of men (93%) said their wellbeing was affected; two-thirds said their relationship was, 40 per cent felt their mental health suffered; a third reported their work was negatively affected and half felt there was not enough support and information for men.
One man described infertility as “the most upsetting, dark and emasculating experience of my life”; another said, “it made me feel less of a man”, while a third noted that fertility treatment itself can be one-sided and insensitive, commenting: “the whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultant’s letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife. There seems to be no equality.”
Us Brits are not very good at talking about what goes on between the sheets or down south. But, with infertility affecting around 1 in 6 couples in the UK, it’s time to break the silence and talk tackle. Change is happening: increasing numbers of men are talking publicly about their experience of infertility, including comedian Rhod Gilbert and racing driver and FNUK ambassador Toby Trice.
Support options are also improving. Noting there was a lack of support for men experiencing male fertility issues, the HIMfertility campaign was set up by comedian Rhod Gilbert, to encourage men to talk about fertility problems and signpost them and their partners to much-needed help. Fertility Network UK, the leading patient charity, hosts a male-only Facebook support group and HIMFertility monthly online meetings. For details see https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/himfertility/
Causes of Male Factor Infertility
Male infertility has a variety of causes. Problems with sperm delivery are common and can be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), injury and varicoceles. Another common issue is sperm production or function problems, which may be related to STIs or undescended testicles. Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, steroids and age can also play a role.
If you have been trying unsuccessfully for a baby for 12 months, you should see your GP. However, if you have any of the following problems you should visit your GP straight away:
Your GP should examine you and arrange for you to have a semen analysis. If necessary your GP will then refer you to a fertility specialist who may arrange for further tests. You will then be able to decide on the best treatment to help you to conceive.
Unfortunately, there are still very limited options for treatment of male fertility problems, with nothing that can be prescribed. ICSI is used to select a normal sperm for fertilisation, but this does not solve the problem of male infertility. Given this, it is more important than ever that men are supported in their struggles.
Fertility Network is the national patient-focused fertility charity here for anyone experiencing fertility struggles whatever stage of your journey. #YouAreNotAloneFacebook | Twitter @FertilityNUK | Instagram @fertilitynetworkuk