Men really get the short end of the stick when it comes to care and attention in the fertility world. So much focus is on the woman. Yet, infertility is (typically) faced as a couple. When a woman can't get pregnant, there's usually a man standing next her who is just as eager for a baby and just as unable to have one.
When a couple can't get pregnant, the woman is told to see her doctor, not the man. Fertility testing is frequently first done on the woman, and only later male fertility is tested (and sometimes not tested for some time!) During treatment, the woman frequently has the most active role, with pills, injections, ultrasounds, and other invasive procedures. There are invasive procedures for male infertility, but they are rarely used. But that doesn't mean the man isn't also stressed.
Here are some key issues that we must not ignore about men and infertility.
Don't Ignore Male Fertility Testing
Basic male fertility testing is relatively simple in terms of procedure. There are no shots, ultrasounds, or needles placed elsewhere. Just a cup and a private room to produce the semen sample, which is then analyzed in a lab. Further testing need only be done if the results are abnormal.
However, male fertility testing is often delayed, perhaps because a woman sees her gynecologist first, who may not think of the male partner as her patient. Often, the male partner isn't tested until they are referred to a fertility clinic.
What's wrong with this? It may lead to treatments that are doomed to fail. If the doctor gives the woman Clomid, it won't help them conceive if male fertility is complicating things. I know of a couple who went through several cycles of Clomid before his fertility was tested and discovered that his sperm count was abnormally low. All that exposure to Clomid (not to mention the emotional stress), for nothing.
Also, I think it's important to acknowledge that male fertility testing is simple in terms of procedure, but not necessarily in action! Semen analysis can be really difficult emotionally for some men. Just think for a minute how you'd feel if someone said you had to go into a room alone and find a way to orgasm, on demand, for medical testing. Yep. Not an easy task for most.
Don't Ignore Male Infertility
Male infertility is largely ignored by the media. So much focus is on women and their biological clock. And yet, almost half of all infertile couples have male factor infertility involved, with some having only male factor infertility involved and others having both male and female factors involved.
Male infertility can be tremendously stressful for a couple, especially the man. But how many mind-body classes do you know that target men? Granted, not many men would be interested in participating, but maybe someone needs to start thinking about how to best support men with infertility.
Don't Ignore the Stress of the Male Partner: Whether or Not He's Infertile
Whether the man is infertile or not, he still experiences stress.
In the trying phase, sex can and does often become a highly stressful issue. Suddenly, he may need to have sex, whether he wants to or not, just because she's ovulating. And knowing that the only reason she wants sex is because she might get pregnant is not a turn on for most men. Sex is a big stress reliever for many men, and when sex becomes stress, it's difficult.
In the testing phase, the relatively simple semen analysis can lead to high levels of anxiety in many men. In the treatment phase, needing to support his wife and produce semen samples (if doing IUI or IVF) can be trying and difficult for many men. There's also the financial stress, which often lays heavier on the male partner even if both partners are high earners, mainly because of societal beliefs of who is responsible for supporting the family.
Then there are the fears that they won't ever have a child. But because men and women often handle stress differently, the woman may feel the man "doesn't care" when really he's just putting up a strong front, hiding his own pain and vulnerability.
Don't Ignore the Male Partner's Role in Improving Health
Women are told to lose weight, try yoga, improve their diets. There are guided meditations and mind-body programs created for women with infertility.
But what are the men told? How often are they told that losing weight may also help improve their sperm counts? How about improving diet? Or cutting back on drinking and quitting smoking, if those are factors? How about vitamins supplementation?
Many doctors don't mention any of this, even when male infertility is diagnosed.
While improving health habits is rarely a sure fire solution to infertility, it may boost your chances. Why all the focus on the women? Why are we ignoring the male partner's role?
Women, do you feel your partner was ignored during testing or treatment? Do you unintentionally ignore his fears and concerns? Men, do you feel your needs were ignored? Do you wonder why the media focuses so much on the women and so little on the men? Please share your thoughts in the comments. I'd love to hear from you!
More on male fertility:
- Male Infertility: Symptoms and Treatments
- Semen Analysis Basics
- Do I Really Need a Semen Analysis?
- Trouble Ejaculating for Testing or Treatment
- 10 Tips to Improve Male Fertility
- All About IVF with ICSI
- How Trying to Conceive Changes Your Sex Life
- Coping with Doctor Prescribed Sex
This post is in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW), which this year is from April 22-28th. Every year, RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association hosts a blog challenge on a chosen theme in honor of NIAW. This year's theme is "Don't Ignore..." Want to join in with your blog? Check out the RESOLVE website.
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