Infertility Among Men Still Stigmatized in U.S.

Women get pregnant. Or they don’t. And when a woman can’t seem to be able to conceive, the blame is often placed on her. Emma can’t have a baby? Must be her ovaries. Or her uterus. Or maybe some other part of her body that’s not functioning properly. Or maybe she doesn’t really want a baby.

infertlity among menBut the truth is that – often – the infertility issue lies with the male partner in the relationship. However, most men don’t want that information to travel outside of their bedroom…or their doctor’s office. That’s because male infertility remains stigmatized, especially in the United States, notes a recent article in Time entitled “The Silent Shame of Male Infertility.”

Up to 50 percent of cases in which couples can’t have children are due in some way to men, the article continues. Some of these men know why there’s a problem. Others simply have no idea why they are the infertile one in the relationship, though there are many theories.

For many, especially those who enjoyed “bulking up” in their earlier years, steroid use is the problem. Conceiving a baby is not generally a concern for these men who, in their teens, decide to take steroids to look “manly”. But when it comes time to start a family, many heavy users are left empty…literally.

The article cites the story of Bradley Goldman, a muscular man who started taking steroids at the age of 18. Now, at age 30 and two years from his last dose of steroids, Goldman is still suffering the effects of his abundant steroid use. Even this long after he stopped using them, his sperm count is measuring zero. Zilch. It was a reality that Goldman found to be “earth-shattering”.

But because Goldman knows why his sperm count is at zero, he’s actually a step ahead of many men, who simply have no answers about their infertility. Doctors have blamed genetics and other health factors or perhaps even the environment for low sperm count. It could be diet, alcohol use, air pollution, stress, pesticides, compounds in plastics, even wearing briefs instead of boxers, the article points out, or it could be none of those. For some, it might simply be age.

Nevertheless, whatever the reason, men often find themselves alone in this battle against infertility, and because of that, many suffer from depression and anxiety and some even report suicidal thoughts.

Most will not look for support outside the home or doctor’s office, preferring to keep the situation private because they see it as a slam to their masculinity.

Others who want support find it’s just not there, either in-person or online. Even the most popular men-only Facebook fertility-related group, Mens Fertility Support, has only 1,000 members.

Fertility clinics and doctors see a small change, however. That same group had only 500 members about two years ago, so that’s good news. But about half of the members are from the U.K., so that still means American men are less likely to look for support for an issue that has a serious impact on their life and that of their spouse.

“So much of masculinity in America is about being as strong, independent and capable as other men,” explained Liberty Barnes, who is a medical sociologist and author of the 2014 book Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity.

“If you can’t get your wife pregnant, you can’t help but compare yourself to other men and feel inferior.”

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