The causes of infertility split up fairly equally: One third of the time, infertility is rooted in problems with the woman’s reproductive system; one third is due to male factors; and one third is caused by issue with both the male and female partner or the cause is undetermined.
But much of the focus of infertility treatment appears to be on women. According to Resolve, “a recent study showed that only 41% of Ob/Gyn physicians even considered a urological evaluation of the male partner and only 24% would routinely refer men to the urologist before ordering a semen analysis.”
Not treating men as equal partners can undermine their health and wellbeing as well as delay successful fertility treatment. Here’s what you need to know:
The first step is talking with your healthcare provider. A health care provider will review medical history and risk factors and perform a physical exam. Based on those results, the provider may also order tests for semen analysis, blood tests and imaging.
Seeking diagnosis and treatment for male factor infertility may be intimidating. For a variety of reasons, men are less likely to be engaged with their health and go to the doctor than women. Given the invasive and sensitive nature of diagnosis and treatment for male factor infertility, men may feel even more reluctant to go. It’s important for men to find a provider they trust that can help them overcome those barriers and get checked out.
Men should also be prepared when they visit their provider. They should ask questions about what to expect during the visit, and know what they hope to accomplish during the appointment. They should take time before the appointment to research and know their own medical history, and be prepared to answer questions clearly and honestly. Preparation may help reduce anxiety and remove some of the stress.
Male factor infertility is caused by problems with the production and/or delivery of sperm. In most cases, problems with sperm production are the issue. Sperm may not be abundant or healthy due to a variety of factors, including past or current infections, hormones, immunological abnormalities, genetic diseases, drug or alcohol use or environmental factors.
In some cases, defects in the genital tract can block sperm. These defects can be caused by congenital abnormalities, scar tissue from previous illness or injury or inflammation from an infection.
Other underlying illnesses or treatment for those illnesses can also impact fertility in men. Certain medications or conditions may cause erectile disfunction or premature ejaculation or other effects.
Male factor infertility can be treated. Depending on the diagnosis, male factor infertility can be treated in a variety of ways. Infertility caused by hormonal issues may be treated with medicines, while surgery may be necessary to treat other diagnoses. If these options are not indicated or are ineffective, providers may recommend other interventions to assist fertility, such as artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization or Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
Infertility has emotional implications for men, too. Infertility may make men feel emasculated or guilty. Men need safe, healthy spaces to identify and address how they are feeling. That may be a peer or mentor, a counselor or a faith leader who can reassure and encourage them throughout the journey.
Fertility is a team sport. Our goal is to treat both partners – men and women – with equal concern for their health and wellbeing.