This is a guest post by Professor Dr Geeta Nargund, Medical Director, CREATE Fertility Clinic
Now more than ever women are becoming increasingly comfortable with discussing their fertility. But can we say the same for men?
It may come as a surprise for many that male infertility can be a contributing factor in up to 50% of cases, and the sole cause in about 30 of cases. Although it is well known that female fertility suffers an earlier and steeper decline than male fertility, there is little mention that men’s fertility also declines with age, albeit over a longer period of time.
In fact, the male biological clock as a whole is simply discussed less. Possibly because the decline begins later in life and because men make sperm all their lives, so potentially remain fertile for longer – whereas women are born with a finite number of eggs. However delaying fatherhood can increase the risk of disorders such as autism or ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder), and particularly after the age of 45. We must not make the mistake of thinking age is irrelevant to male fertility.
Lifestyle factors are also as important for men as they are for women. Men produce brand new sperm every 2 to 3 months, and so their lifestyle in the preceding months is incredibly important in determining the quality of sperm. High alcohol intake, smoking and poor diet can all negatively affect sperm function. Other factors include anything that contributes to an intermittent increase in scrotal temperature, such as taking hot baths, sitting at a desk or on a sofa for long periods of time. Healthy sperm is needed to make a healthy embryo and a healthy baby, so being aware of this when trying for a baby is very important.
Removing the taboo
Yet beyond the physical issues, (and potentially even more damaging) is the lack of open dialogue amongst men when it comes to discussing their understanding, fears and thoughts on male infertility especially as when compared to women. Facing the trauma of infertility can be an incredibly stressful and emotional time for those riding the roller coaster of diagnosis and treatment, and it is vital that men feel comfortable enough to discuss and deal with these complex emotions, and have the platforms or spaces to do so. As it is most often women who are undergoing fertility treatment, men risk becoming the ‘hidden half’, which belies their central role in this journey.
A fundamental part of the conversation
I have seen many cases where it was the man who put the pressure on to delay having children, which can often be put down to a lack of understanding of the fertility hurdles that exist for both men and women as we age. If we are to ensure that both genders are equipped to reduce the current figure of one in six couples consulting a fertility doctor, then we need to encourage a better understanding amongst men, so they can work with women to make informed decisions on when to have a baby.
I believe that fertility education should become a matter of course for young men and women, as starting these conversations early will empower the next generation with the right information to be able to make a responsible decision, and have the best possible chance of starting a healthy family when they’re ready. I have long campaigned for this to become part of secondary school curriculum, lobbying the government and speaking with cabinet ministers, as well as launching the first fertility education classes earlier this year.
Whatever your family make up, the fact is it requires a man and a woman to make a baby, and so encouraging men to sit up and take notice of their fertility is crucial in breaking the fertility taboo for all.
With thanks to Dr Geeta Nargund. 31st October-6th November is National Fertility Awareness Week.
Are you aware of the facts about male infertility? Why do you think we discuss it less than a woman’s fertility?