When a couple struggles to have children, the woman’s ovaries automatically become the center of attention.
The initial reaction is to examine her ovulation cycle and pick up a predictor kit. Though those are important steps in understanding fertility, they are only half the equation. It does take two to tango after all.
Society often puts pressure on women when it comes to fertility issues, but studies show men contribute to 50% of infertility cases. Part of the perception may be the lack of infertility awareness among men.
Women can easily come across fertility information in any popular women’s magazine or talk show. Guys? Let’s just say it’s not a popular topic on Deadspin or in the latest issues of GQ or Maxim.
But Resolve, the National Infertility Association, is trying to change that with National Infertility Awareness Week, April 24-30. The organization is aiming to spark a conversation about infertility with its #StartAsking campaign.
And it’s time for men, in particular, to start asking about their fertility.
BY THE NUMBERS
It’s estimated that 7 million couples are dealing with infertility. Guys are solely responsible for 20-30% of infertility cases, according to a recent study. Yet, 80% of men in infertile couples won’t receive a fertility evaluation.
So what gives? Part of the issue is the misconception that men don’t have a biological clock. Some guys figure as long as they don’t suffer from erectile dysfunction, they can father a child at any age. Although Billy Joel just had a child at age 66, that’s the exception, not the norm.
In fact, a University of Otago study found that age causes a decline in semen volume and motility, and men over 35 are about half as fertile as men under 25.
WHAT CAUSES MALE INFERTILITY?
Male fertility requires men to produce an adequate number of healthy and functional sperm. A low sperm count is the most common cause of infertility in men, though motility (movement of the sperm) is also a factor.
A low sperm count is considered less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen.
Though some lifestyle traits contribute to low sperm production, such as smoking and excessive drinking, natural conditions play a huge role too. Here are some disorders that impact sperm count motility:
- Varicoceles: Swollen veins in the scrotum that hinder sperm growth by blocking blood drainage.
- Retrograde ejaculation: A condition where semen goes backwards into the bladder instead of out the penis during ejaculation.
- Immunologic infertility: Antibodies hinder sperm from moving to the fallopian tube. This is usually caused by injury, surgery, or infection.
- Hormones: Low hormone levels inhibit sperm growth.
- Chromosomes: Changes in the structure or number of chromosomes in sperm impact fertility.
- Medication: Some medications affect sperm production, such as prescription drugs for arthritis, depression, high blood pressure, and infection
TESTING MALE FERTILITY
Hopefully it’s clear that infertility is not a one-gender issue. Men should know their fertility factor when trying to have a baby. They can check it right at home with SpermCheck, an over-the-counter product that tests if their sperm count is adequate.
Men who are younger than 35 should check their fertility if they have been trying to have a child for a year. Those older than 35 should test after six months.
Regardless of age, it’s time to ditch the notion that infertility is a woman’s issue. And it all starts with awareness.
Join the conversation at #StartAsking to help raise awareness and break the silence about male infertility.