I’ve been writing about fertility and infertility, for years. It’s hard to believe now, but when I first broached the subject of infertility it was seen as “the woman’s fault”.
There was no information on male infertility. At that time only female infertility was considered but never a man’s. That was unmentionable.
And it’s largely stayed that way despite the fact that around half of all cases of infertility are down to the male partner. But this secrecy is harmful, as a new survey shows.
A study of infertile men found infertility hits males’ mental health, self-esteem, relationships, sex life, even their career.
Being infertile can leave men feeling “emasculated” and “jealous” when they see another couple with a baby, the research found.
This small Leeds University survey of 41 infertile men whose participants had been trying to conceive for an average of five years, reported fertility issues damage the wellbeing of nine out of 10. They felt emasculated, distressed and isolated, their
self-esteem eroded, causing stress, depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and loss of identity.
Men often felt excluded and marginalised during fertility treatment, with some respondents reporting a lack of sensitivity from healthcare professionals. But emotional support for men is still scarce as infertility is seen as a “women’s issue”. Some men admitted their career prospects and finances suffered as well as being too ashamed to discuss their problem with their employer.
Fertility Network UK chief Susan Seenan said: “Men are half of the fertility equation. When they cannot create the family they long for without medical help, they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do – yet our major new survey with Leeds Beckett University shows men’s needs are far too often ignored, with support scarce before, during and after fertility treatment.
“This is unacceptable; we hope this survey will challenge the silence around male infertility and facilitate more male support groups.”
Dr Esmee Hanna, lead researcher, said: “We know from this survey and our previous research that men find infertility an isolating and emotionally distressing experience.
“This survey shows just how impactful fertility issues can be to men’s lives, their work, relationships and self-identities.
“There sadly still remains stigma and taboo about male infertility within society, but it is really encouraging that so many men shared their personal perspectives in this survey and that Fertility Network UK are leading the way in starting conversations about how fertility issues affect both men and women.”