Although women worry more about their ability to conceive, experts say we should be taking male fertility more seriously
If you’re worrying about whether you’ll conceive, chances are you’re thinking about egg quality, ovulation rate and hormonal cycle. Let’s face it, female problems get all the press. But a new study shows that it’s high time we started another conversation, about your partner’s contribution. Sperm concentration has decreased by a third since the 1990s (according to a French study from 2012), leading to some experts announcing ‘a sperm crisis’.
This backs a previous French study from 2008 that suggested sperm count had decreased by half over the past 50 years, possibly due to stress and urban living. And while we hear a lot about maternal age, studies also show there are increasing genetic abnormalities in sperm, particularly in older men. One study showed a higher miscarriage risk in pregnancies where the fathers were over 45, showing it to be two times higher than in men under 25.
Although Boots is now selling Britain’s first DIY male fertility test, called Spermcheck Fertility (£30) enabling men (or women) to do sperm count checks at home, male infertility has been slow to get the attention it deserves. Our Mother&Baby survey showed that more than 60 per cent of readers weren’t worried at all about their partner's fertility, while 70% feel the pressure is on themselves not their partner, regardless of who might actually have fertility problems.
‘Women are the ones seeking help and being proactive, but men contribute 50% to couples’ problems,’ says Dr Sheryl Homa, who runs Andrology Solutions, the only licensed UK fertility clinic dedicated entirely to men. ‘With women, it’s a yes or no proposition – you either have a good egg or you don’t. With men it’s much more complex. If you don’t start with the correct genetic material provided by healthy sperm, you will have a problem.'
The first problem is that the majority of IVF clinics are run by gynaecologists, who are experts only in female reproductive parts. ‘Would you send someone with a heart condition to an ear, nose and throat specialist?’ says Dr Homa. The male version of a gynaecologist is an urologist, but these experts often know little about fertility, so getting expert help for men can prove tricky.
‘When a couple is faced with an "unexplained infertility" diagnosis, the woman is sent to a gynaecologist for a battery of tests, but for the man has nothing except a semen analysis done,’ says Dr Homa. ‘If this happens to you, make sure your partner is also sent to an urologist or andrologist, an expert in male health.”
Before embarking on any medical procedures, the first step – which not enough men take seriously, according to Dr Homa – is encouraging your partner to make some basic lifestyle changes. ‘Tell him to stop smoking, drinking and cycling, and start wearing boxer shorts – this can make a significant difference,’ says Dr Homa. ‘And this is something within his power.’
Is your partner up for boosting his fertility, or is he reluctant to take his share of responsibility when trying to conceive?