While the quality and coverage of fertility treatments differs according to provider and postcode, the industry has recently come under fire for not taking men’s fertility as seriously as women’s. Often, reproduction is seen as a ‘women’s issue’, with fertility articles often appearing in the women’s section of newspapers and in women’s magazines far more often than men’s.
This approach extends well beyond the media – while extensive research has been done on the impact of female age, we have only recently realise that paternal age also has an impact on pregnancy success rates.
Dr Liberty Barnes of University of Cambridge recently wrote about how often women endure years of infertility treatments (both medical and holistic) only to realise that they were having difficulty conceiving because of a partners’ low sperm count.
Unfortunately, since women carry the pregnancy and potentially suffer a range of complications both before conception, after, and during pregnancy, most treatments and research are focussed on women’s reproductive systems. But male infertility is just as common as female, and goes undiagnosed and untreated far more regularly.
Guidelines from the WHO state that diagnosis of infertility in a couple should include a semen analysis and thorough physical examination. While many doctors recommend a semen analysis to begin investigation because it is one of the least invasive procedures, physical examinations are often ignored because IVF is one of the most popular treatments (regardless of whether the issue is low sperm motility or low count). While this does achieve the end goal of conception, it does not help men improve their fertility.
Men around the world have reported feeling left out of the process or entirely ignored. When these issues are raised, many clinics suggest counselling to deal with emotional responses to feeling inadequate or side-lined, but one patient reported coming for therapy only to find that he had been booked under his wife’s name.
Commentators have suggested that there is a greater stigma attached to male infertility, and breaking that taboo would be the first step to promoting more research and encouraging men to come forward to discuss their fertility issues. It’s also clear that fertility clinics must work to treat men and women as equal contributors to the process to ensure that fertility is properly investigated and sensitively treated.