Although many people still think of infertility as a “woman’s problem”, it’s not. Infertility, defined as the inability to conceive after one year of unprotected sex, affects one in six couples of childbearing age in the United States. In 40 percent of cases, the problem resides with the man. And while “Women are from Mars and Men are from Venus,” the pain of infertility can cut just as deep for a man.
“I’ve seen men in tears (in my office),” said Dr. Howard Heidenberg, a board-certified Tampa urologist who treats men for infertility. “Having a family really means a lot to them. They have the perfect spouse and family is a big piece of the dream for them and they can get emotional, which is perfectly normal.”
On the flip side, infertility can be a tough topic to handle for some men because of existing attitudes of shame and denial.
“Some men emotionally shut down and refuse to be involved in treatments or talk about it,” adds Heidenberg. “Basically they just choose to opt out. People are very different.”
According to Resolve, The National Infertility Association, men are not as willing as their female partners to talk about their infertility, adding “perhaps this is because we traditionally think of children as a woman’s province, or because over the ages, conception has been thought of as the woman’s responsibility.”
“When infertility is involved and both partners want a child; while it’s certainly painful for the both of them, a man can define himself and his identity through work and physical activity. In a certain way, for some women, having children and being a mom is a part of being a woman. It’s a primal instinct. I don’t think the man hurts as intensely as the woman, but it’s easy for a man to put it out of his mind because he’s not getting his menses every month and he’s not looking at his friends and saying “Gee, why can’t it be me who’s having a baby?”
Heidenberg says men must realize infertility has nothing to do with virility.
“There is still, even in our society, a somewhat macho mindset. The first thing I tell (my patients) is this has nothing to do with their sexuality. The most virile guy around can’t have children. Chances are, they know somebody who is in the same boat, but in general, we don’t talk about it at all, we just do a lot of grunting.”
If you want proof, just go on the Internet and you’ll find thousands of women openly sharing their infertility struggles on social media and chatrooms. Celebrities like Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker have made no secret of their infertility.
But you won’t find a man stepping on to the spotlight to discuss his infertility, though celebrity Chef Gordon Ramsey did broach the subject when he revealed he has a low sperm count as a result of working in hot kitchen environments.
Last year, an estimated 7 million women sought infertility treatments since the National Center for Health Statistics began tracking in 1955. But only recently did the data become available on men’s fertility.
But one thing is certain: Like women, its crucial men get tested for fertility. And while it can be more embarrassing for a man to seek treatment, the earlier a problem is detected, the sooner a couple can realize their dream of conceiving.
Male infertility can affect men of any age and nationality for a number of reasons. The most common cause of male infertility cases are due to low sperm counts, poor semen quality or both, says Dr. Heidenberg. Other causes can include genetic defects, hormonal imbalances, illness, drugs, steroid use and trauma.
Female infertility is a board-certified subspecialty, but male infertility has no equivalent although some urologists have more expertise in treating male infertility than others, says Heidenberg. A visit to a urologist is usually the first step in finding the cause of male infertility along with the semen analysis test.
About 70 percent of male infertility is treatable, says Dr. Heidenberg. In some cases, lifestyle changes can help.
If you have questions about Male Infertility, please contact The Reproductive Medicine Group at (813) 914-7304 Also, join our community on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ReproductiveMedicineGroup , Twitter @ReproMedGroup or Pinterest at www.pinterest.com/rmgfertility.