When you enter the gynaecologist’s office next, play a little game while you wait your turn. Try counting the men in the room with their heads bowed down. The ones slumped in silent resignation. These good fellas are probably bracing themselves for a solo performance in the bathroom in just a few minutes. One-star cast, no supporting artists. And a little cup. Oh, joy.
Infertility affects men and women equally. But in both cases, the female partner sits up and takes notice first. Usually, she thinks the problem lies with her (not exclusive to fertility, yes?). Half the time, she’s right. But the other half of the time, the problem lies with her partner. The truth is, men have trouble accepting reality, a sentiment that is often plastered across their faces as they stumble into the gynaecologist’s room, nudged along by their wheedling wives.
Manning up to infertility isn’t easy. And when the man in question does acknowledge that something could be wrong, he’s most likely to blame it on tight jeans and brazen motorcycles escapades by moonlight. While there’s no doubt that infertility in men can be prompted by various lifestyle influences, such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, strenuous motorcycle riding, obesity and severe medications, most often, the problems are deeper rooted.
Male infertility is most frequently caused by deficiencies in semen. Sexually transmitted diseases, blockages in the testicles, retrograde ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, hormonal problems and autoimmune problems can impede conception and require medical attention from a specialist.
If you think about it, even a healthy sperm’s chance of survival in the vagina is negligible. Of the 100-300 million sperm that are ejaculated into the vagina, only about 40 million sperm live to see the light of day the uterus. Given that this number isn’t significant even with a normal sperm count, it drops drastically when there is a low sperm reserve. A man with a sperm count of lower than 20-40 million is termed infertile, and even those men who have a normal sperm count must possess sperm that are bracketed by an oval head and a long tail. Any abnormalities in the shape of the sperm can reduce the chances of conception.
Male infertility, like female infertility, can be combatted by medical intervention. Your doctor may recommend that your partner increase his intake of folic acid and zinc, whose combination is known to increase sperm count. Hormone treatment may be recommended if your partner has been diagnosed with a hormonal imbalance. Retrograde ejaculation, a condition where semen settles in the bladder instead of being ejected during intercourse, can be corrected with surgery. And of course, hot tubs may be off the agenda for now (too much heat can kill sperm).
If a medical prescription doesn’t work for you, technology likely will. Technology plays a critical role in addressing more serious cases. There are a host of Assisted Reproductive Techniques (ART) that are employed by advanced fertility centres to help with male infertility. Physiological Intra-Cytoplasmic Sperm Injection (PICSI), for instance, is an effective tool. This procedure involves the identification of a healthy sperm and its injection into a mature egg, giving the zygote a higher chance of survival after fertilisation.
There’s no shame in acknowledging that there’s a problem. In fact, addressing fertility concerns early will save you from stress and heartache in the future. Don’t be fooled by those men in the waiting room. They’ll be rewarded for their bathroom renditions in about 9 months’ time. And then, it’ll all seem worth it.