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Why fertility is firmly a male issue

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Gwenda Burns

Chief Executive, Fertility Network UK

Infertility is as emotionally distressing and isolating for men as it is for women, as a survey looking at men’s experiences of the disease revealed.

Data from the fertility regulator the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) show that the majority (37%) of couples seeking IVF or ICSI (intra cytoplasmic sperm injection) do so because of male factor fertility problems. 

A Fertility Network UK 2017 survey looking at men’s experiences of infertility revealed the impact of infertility on men. The majority of men (93%) said their wellbeing was affected; two-thirds said their relationship was, 40% felt their mental health suffered; a third reported their work was negatively affected and half felt there was not enough support and information for men.

Change is happening. Increasing numbers of men are talking publicly about their experience of infertility.

Lack of equality 

One man described infertility as “the most upsetting, dark and emasculating experience of my life,” another said, “it made me feel less of a man.” A third noted that fertility treatment itself can be one-sided and insensitive, commenting: “the whole experience has been focused on my wife… even consultant’s letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife. There seems to be no equality.”

However, change is happening. Increasing numbers of men are talking publicly about their experience of infertility, including comedian Rhod Gilbert and racing driver and FNUK ambassador Toby Trice. 

Causes of male infertility 

Male infertility has a variety of causes. Problems with sperm delivery are common and can be caused by sexually transmitted infections (STIs), injury and varicoceles. Another common issue is sperm production or function problems, which may be related to STIs or undescended testicles. Environmental and lifestyle factors, such as smoking, steroids and age can also play a role.

Unfortunately, there are still very limited options for treatment of male fertility problems, with nothing that can be prescribed. ICSI is used to select a normal sperm for fertilisation, but this does not solve the problem of male infertility. Given this, it is more important than ever that men are supported in their struggles.

There are places men can turn to for support: FNUK, the leading patient charity, hosts a male only Facebook support group and HIMFertility monthly online meetings. 

For details see https://fertilitynetworkuk.org/himfertility/

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