It’s the question you’ve answered too many times as the months drag on.
“When are you two going to have a baby?”
“We’re trying” is your automatic response.
The word trying sums up the experience for many couples who are trying to conceive (TTC). It is trying to go month after month without a positive pregnancy test. It is trying to mourn after a miscarriage. It is trying to see friends get pregnant … without even trying. It is exciting, stressful, painful, expensive, sad, depressing and scary to be trying to have a baby with no end in sight.
Whether you are starting to try, or have been trying for months or years, knowing more about the male reproductive system will help reframe your understanding of fertility and your approach to TTC – conceiving and achieving a healthy pregnancy by taking a comprehensive look at the ‘sperm + egg = pregnancy’ equation.
1. You’re far from alone
Infertility is defined as not being able to get pregnant after trying with unprotected sex for one year, or 6 months of trying if over 35 years old. In the US, 1 in 6 couples (16%) are unable to get pregnant after a year of having unprotected sex. And age matters, 1 in 6 couples over the age of 35 have difficulty getting pregnant.
2. It takes two
Infertility is as common in males as it is in females. Pause and take that in. Approximately 30% of infertility is due solely to sperm or male factors, 30% can be attributed solely to egg or female factors, 30% to a combination of both factors, and 10% of cases have an unknown cause. Meaning male fertility issues effect at least half of couples struggling to conceive. Many couples struggle unnecessarily to conceive and for extended periods of time simply because the male’s reproductive health is overlooked (that sperm part of the equation). Given male and female factors contribute equally to difficulty conceiving, assessing the reproductive health of the male concurrently with the female is a logical step when evaluating options and optimizing changes to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
3. It’s so much more than just ejaculating
Remember in middle school sex ed when they told us … “if a male and a female have sex, one of you will get pregnant” …turns out there’s so much more to it, and it’s never too late to get a better understanding of male reproductive anatomy and all the other stuff that goes into, well, the stuff that eventually comes out. Who you are, and what you do influences your sperm quantity and quality – from genetics to lifestyle, hormones to anatomy. Importantly, checking on your swimmers with a semen analysis (fertility test for men) and if abnormal – an evaluation with a male fertility specialist can identify factors that are oftentimes reversible or treatable, not to mention the possibility of diagnosing an underlying medical condition presenting as infertility. Whether you are looking to become a dad for the first time, or you are adding to your brood, taking a holistic approach to managing your health, starting with your fertility, best prepares you for the parenting journey ahead.
Male Fertility Myths
1. Masculinity = fertility
Stereotypical muscle-bound heterosexual alpha males are no more or less likely to be fertile than other males. In fact, anabolic steroids and synthetic testosterone are known to interfere with sperm production. So, ironically, these lifestyle choices can actually negatively impact fertility. If you have a history of anabolic steroid or testosterone use and are trying to become a parent, a male fertility test – semen analysis – can determine if you have a normal sperm count. If not, a male fertility specialist can create a plan with you to manage your testosterone while optimizing sperm production.
Beyond just physical appearances, our societal view of masculinity includes the expectation that a masculine male is one who has the ability to achieve professional success, produce offspring and provide for his family. While these stereotypes are deeply rooted in our culture, we are starting to see change and understanding that high achieving, successful males are no more or less likely to be fertile than other males. Male factor infertility or a low sperm count is not a measure of masculinity, it is a medical condition that is most often treatable!
2. It is what it is, there’s nothing I can do about it
Fellas. Like the ladies, your health impacts your fertility. Lifestyle choices, including smoking, drinking alcohol, recreational drug use and your diet and nutrition play an important role in semen quality. Obesity is associated with a decrease in sperm quality and an increased risk of infertility. Fortunately, overcoming these negative effects on fertility are often achieved by making healthier lifestyle choices. For males with underlying health issues and chronic conditions, it’s especially important to seek care from a qualified male fertility specialist to understand the effects any medication or behaviors have on fertility, and what can be done to improve male fertility. And that’s only the beginning – a male fertility specialist will identify and address medications that influence fertility, hormone imbalances resulting in infertility, anatomy impeding the ability for your sperm to complete their journey, and a variety of other factors that influence sperm.
3. Age doesn’t affect men
Just because Mick Jagger fathered a child at 73 does not mean your sperm health is impervious to decline as you age. Research indicates that advanced paternal age (APA) is linked to difficulty conceiving, chromosomal abnormalities, birth defects and genetic linked congenital conditions such as chondrodysplasia, schizophrenia and autism. While female fertility starts declining around age 35, APA is defined as 40 and over.
Regardless of where you are on your personal journey to parenthood, you will benefit from understanding the equitable role male fertility plays in achieving a healthy pregnancy.