Think that your man is obsessed with work? Think again. If a recent survey is to be believed, it’s probable that the thought occupying his mind is whether or not he’s able to father children.
Yes, men are more concerned about quality of their sperm than the quality of their career trajectory – and 14 per cent of them rate their fertility as their number one priority in life. So it’s unsurprising that when a problem is found with a man’s fertility, the news can affect him deeply. But if you find yourself in a similar situation with your partner, don’t expect to be able to second-guess his reaction – there is no textbook response to this kind of news.
“Nobody wants to find a problem, and reactions range from being shocked and upset to relief that a cause of the infertility has been identified,” says Emma Cannon, founder of Harley Street practice A Healthy Conception. Though a diagnosis of infertility is difficult for anyone to deal with, she thinks that women tend to cope better with the news simply because they decide to take an active part in dealing with their condition.
“As a rule, but by no means in all couples, women find diagnosis of a problem in themselves easier to manage and accept than men do. Women are generally better at making positive changes to improve their fertility; I think it is fair to say that they are more motivated.”
It’s easy to conclude that a diagnosis of infertility affects a man’s concept of his own masculinity which in turn affects his behaviour – and quite often this seems to be the case.
“I think for some men the semen analysis is a ‘measure of manhood’ and therefore it can be a real setback if it is poor,” agrees Cannon. “Interestingly, women often report that they would rather the problem had been with them as emotionally the situa- tion would have been easier to deal with.”
“This kind of news will have a big impact on any man,” concurs psychologist Trudy Hill from the Susie Ambrose Clinic, “and many studies have shown that involuntary childlessness in men has a big impact on mental health, self-esteem and many other areas. Masculinity and fertility are linked equally as much as femininity and fertility; they are linked by our biology, by our nature and through the concept of evolution and sexual selection as we select the mate most likely to give us healthy children and be able to care or provide well for them. They are also linked through our society, through our media and our social norms.”
Much of infertility is not absolute and there are things that the man can do to improve the situation. When he is told this he feels more in control. When we feel in control we feel less stressed – and we cope better.
No wonder there is still, unbelievably, such a stigma around male infertility. Women with conditions preventing them from conceiving are likely to discuss their endometriosis or fibroids or polycystic ovaries with their friends and get sympathy; men with a low sperm count won’t confide in their friends because of all the laddish jokes they’ve swapped concerning poking fun at others ‘firing blanks’ in the past. And yet men can suffer terrible psychological pressure after their diagnosis, and need support and understanding.
Mark (not his real name) agrees. “I feel worthless for not being able to get the job done the natural way,” he says. “I feel like we have to go through all these procedures because I’m not man enough.”
Jane found her husband reacting in a similar way. “He definitely feels he’s less of a man because he’s unable to have children,” she says. “He feels as though he has let me down, even though of course he hasn’t, and even if I’d known about our fertility problem before we got married, I still wouldn’t have done anything differently.”
If your man is horribly hurt by the diagnosis, you’re bound to want to talk to him about it, particularly to reassure him that you still love him and wouldn’t change him for anyone in the world – but broaching that tricky topic is probably easier said than done.
“Men are less at ease with discussing emotions,” says Hill bluntly. “Men and women, while equal, are still very far apart. Not only has our biology evolved differently but we have also been social- ised differently. From a biology viewpoint, some would go as far as to say that men are actually less comfortable having strong emotions than women full-stop, let alone discussing them. Some research, for example, shows that men’s immune systems and cardiovascular systems take longer to recover when experiencing extreme emotion than a woman’s does. That is to say, men have health consequences when exposing themselves to severe emotion.”
If that’s true, then it’s no wonder men may find it difficult to discuss their feelings on infertility.
Hill sees an evolutionary basis to men’s unease with emotional issues:
“Discussing emotions is not something that is hard-wired into the male psychology the way it is with females,” she says.
“We can guess this from evolution – the man feeling upset, angry, scared and wanting to sit and talk about it will have been less efficient at hunting successfully if he was unable to turn his emotions off and get on with the task at hand. We can also now, with modern-day technology, confirm this by looking at brain functioning. There is some evidence to suggest that male and female brains are wired differently. In men, emotions are compartmentalised into a particular area and are usually linked to action – not communication centres. In woman the boundaries are much less obvious and activity as a reaction to emotion can be seen in many centres and is usually linked with communication. So when a woman is under emotional stress she usually likes to talk about it; when a man is under emo- tional stress he likes to stop talking and find ways to start ‘doing’.”
Kelly has a husband who refuses to discuss how he feels about his diagnosis of infertility, or even put potential courses of action that might improve their chances of conception into practice. “He just doesn’t feel the need to talk about it, for whatever reason,” she explains. “He relies on the doctor’s opinion for everything involving his health anyway, so I’ve had to be the proactive one when it comes to our infertility too.”
Sarah has a similar problem with her partner, so she avoids talking to him about it unless he specifically raises the subject. “I don’t want to make him feel worse and talk about babies and infertility rarely, even though I think about it all the time,” she confesses. “When he brings it up we discuss it, but not usually any other time.”
So how should women in the same situation as Kelly and Sarah deal with their need to communicate?
“Never use the word ‘should’ – don’t use it to attack your partner about lifestyle issues,” advises Cannon. “Try to let him come round to things in his own time with- out trying to fix it for him. Conclusions that he makes himself will have more meaning.”
It sounds surprising, but Hill also reveals: “Many men struggle facing up to infertility and in many couples the women opt to tell the outside world the problem is theirs.”
That might not be the best option for you, but it’s completely understandable that you might feel you want to protect your man’s wounded pride as part of your effort to fix as much as you can for him.
If your partner still isn’t keen on sharing how he’s feeling, Hill recommends Sarah’s strategy of leaving him to it for the time being – hard though it may be for you. “The best thing you can do is to understand his desire to keep quiet and give him some space,” she says. “Then when you do talk it through the emotion will be slightly less raw. In addition, a good opening will be to try and talk from a practical angle to start with.”
That means looking at those possible lifestyle options that could improve your chances of conception, and talking them through – but remembering not to push your opinions on him too strongly, which may come across as unhelpful nagging.
“The extent to which a man is affected will depend usually on how in control of the situation he feels,” concludes Hill.
“Remember, much of infertility is not absolute and there are things that the man can do to improve the situation. When he is told this he feels more in control. When we feel in control we feel less stressed – and we cope better.”
Detech your bedroom
Why charging your phone next to where you sleep could be harming your sperm.
“If you are trying for a baby and it doesn’t happen within a year you might want to think of whether it could be your mobile phone habit that is to blame,” says Professor Martha Dirnfeld, of the Technion University in Haifa which recently investigated whether mobile phone use can affect sperm quality. In the study, Israeli scientists monitored 106 men attending a fertility clinic for a year and results indicated that those who chatted on the phone for more than an hour daily were twice as likely to have low sperm quality as those who spoke for less than an hour.
The scientists’ findings were published in the journal Reproductive BioMedicine and found that 47% of men who kept their phones within 50cm of their groin had sperm levels that were seriously affected, compared with just 11% of the general population.
The benefits of leaving your laptop and smartphone outside the bedroom have long been known: blue light before sleep suppresses melatonin production leaving you feeling exhausted, and answering work emails whilst in between the sheets can build a virtual wall between you and your partner. But aside from being an obvious passion killer, this new study also found that a man’s sperm count can be reduced by talking on a phone that is charging, or even keeping it close by on a bedside table at night.
The science behind the findings is alarmingly simple: heat and electromagnetic activity which emanate from a mobile phone are thought to ‘cook’ sperm, causing them to die. Also, men who used their phone as it charged were almost twice as likely to suffer problems, suggesting that the so-called urban myth of charging devices giving off stronger rays may actually have some substance to it..
Professor Gedis Grudzinskas, a fertility consultant at St George’s Hospital, London, comments: “Men need to think about their wellbeing and try to stop being addicted to their phones. If you wear a suit to work put the mobile in your chest pocket instead of close to your testes. It will reduce the risk of your sperm count dropping or dropping so much.”
However, some medical professionals are keen to prevent studies like this causing a mass hysteria. Dr Fiona Mathews, a biologist from the University of Exeter, has conducted her own studies in this field and acknowledges that whilst these rays seem to have a detrimental effect on sperm, there is still not sufficient evidence to prove that mobile phone radiation can render men infertile. “We have previously found that there are consistent patterns of mobile phone exposure being linked to reduced sperm quality,” says Dr Mathews.
“Unfortunately, there is not yet any direct evidence available to link mobile phone use with complete infertility. All we can say at the moment is that mobile phone exposure reduces sperm quality and it would therefore be reasonable to infer that, for men who are already on the borderline of infertility, phone exposure could further reduce the chances of pregnancy.”
So why not follow the lead of James Bond actor Daniel Craig, who though known for his high-tech gadgets on screen, once suggested that the secret to his happy marriage with Rachel Weisz is their bedroom ban on technology. He told The New York Times: “There’s nothing technological allowed in the bedroom. If the iPad goes to bed, it’s a killer. We have a ban on it.”
Of course this doesn’t mean we need to ditch mobile phones all together, but it is important to be aware of our addiction to tech. So what else can we do to minimise mobile disruption? When at work or home it’s worth making sure men take their phones out of their pockets and keep them on the desk or table. Before bed consider a device curfew; not only will this have a positive effect on your mental health but will encourage intimacy between you and your partner. Lastly, buy an old-fashioned alarm clock and keep your charging smartphone away from the bed. All these are small lifestyle changes, but ones that could have a profound effect on both your relationship and your fertility journey.
Why Are Sperm Counts Dropping Across The World?
The statistics on male infertility make for scary reading. One in five otherwise healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 25 have low sperm counts that put them at risk of infertility. Overall, infertility affects as many as one in 25 men. At an average rate of 1.4% a year, the sperm count of Western men has been falling for decades. Since 1973, sperm counts have dropped by an average of 52%.
There are stories of real people behind the statistics. Millions of people across the world who want a child but must now go through testing, appointments, medical procedures, expenses, delays, dealing with insurance companies, and all the stress that comes with it. It can be an emotional roller-coaster where relationships are stretched to the limit.
But why are sperm counts dropping all over the world? What is causing it? The problem is, we just don’t know. Research and studies are delving into the issue and attempting to come up with answers. There are a lot of theories.
Rather than competing, it seems more likely that many of these theories are in fact contributing factors. It could be this combination of a number of influences that is wreaking havoc on sperm counts. If each potential factor has even a little part to play then it’s easy to see how they could stack up.
There are some causes of infertility that we can’t do anything about. Levels have a genetic factor, inherited and the general lottery of our biological form. Other illnesses or conditions can contribute. But the other factors we will discuss here are not handed down by fate and can, to some degree, be controlled and curbed.
Which is good news, because sperm production is ongoing and can respond to positive changes as well as negative ones. It could also explain why sperm counts are dropping worldwide and have done so drastically in such a short time.
There are many environmental factors, such as the increasing use of plastics, of pesticides, GMOs and so on. Some of them are more obvious: the antibiotics and hormones fed to the animals we consume, for instance. We absorb these chemicals into our body through the meat.
Modern farming practices have become more and more intense which is why we are also seeing a big push towards organics. While the use of harsh pesticides is controlled in many parts of the world it could still have lingering effects. It takes years for soil to become certified organic, even smaller levels of pesticides could be causing health issues and there are some food-producing areas that are less regulated.
But we also absorb plastics and other chemicals as they leach into the water supply or contaminate the food and drink they hold. Tiny amounts can build up in the body and it introduces a whole new array of problems that our grandparents certainly didn’t have to deal with.
Similarly, since the late 1960s, the contraceptive pill has been widely used and there are studies ongoing about how much of the estrogen hormone passes into the general water supply. By drinking tap water we could be exposing ourselves to tiny amounts of estrogen that could cause havoc on a man’s reproductive system. Testosterone is essential for sperm production and estrogen acts in direct opposition. It may only be a tiny amount, but all these contributions stack up.
Male infertility is on the rise all over the world and so is another health problem: obesity. It’s a modern epidemic and can cause poor health in many ways. The modern diet is rich, high in sugar and in plentiful supply. A man’s overall health and fitness has a big part to play in his fertility. Improving the diet and getting in shape are often the first steps in fertility treatment and there are sometimes restrictions on that treatment until certain conditions, like body mass index are reached.
Obesity also has a direct, negative effect on testosterone. It inhibits testosterone production, which in turn inhibits the production of sperm.
If this all sounds very stressful that’s exactly the point too: stress is also linked to male infertility. It’s a vicious cycle because dealing with infertility is also incredibly stressful. But aside from that, our 24/7 highly commercialized modern life is very stressful and stress has become yet another modern epidemic.
Stress causes health problems because high levels of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol wreak havoc on the body. It disrupts sleep, which is an essential restorative for the body to heal, and means we are operating on high alert all the time which puts other bodily functions on the low-priority backburner. It means we have little time for exercise and are prone to eating badly, linking back to other infertility factors.
There are more cell phones in the world than there are people and they are an essential part of life for most of us. As is WiFi, allowing us to stay connected on the go, and enabling the growing use of wireless technology and the Internet of Things. Which means that the world is fast becoming blanketed in an “electromagnetic smog”.
All the cell phone radiation and electromechanical fields are also contributing to male infertility according to many studies. In one of those studies, mobile phone radiation was described as ‘cooking’ sperm. The radiation passes through the body and damages cells and DNA. There are some very important and delicate cells developing close to where many men carry a cell phone in their pocket or on a belt.
When all these contributing factors come together it’s easy to see how they can stack up. Even if each individual factor – and potentially more that we aren’t yet aware of – was responsible for a tiny percentage decrease in sperm count, together they could add up to a drop that takes a man from a healthy, average sperm count, to infertility.
“Sperm count” is a simplified way of referring to a man’s overall fertility. It’s not just the quantity of sperm, but their health and viability that is an issue.
Sperm motility is the sperm’s ability to move. This has four classifications from strong progress to not being able to move at all and includes sperm that can move but in circles rather than a forward motion. Having sperm that doesn’t move at all or just chase their tails is not any use for conception.
Sperm viability means that the sperm is able to do its job. Some sperm are formed with faults, some have DNA that is corrupted, some are too weak to withstand the acidic environment through which they must travel. Sperm that arrives at its destination but has a fault in its DNA is not going to conceive a viable embryo.
So it’s not just sheer quantity that matters, but also the state of those sperm that are produced. And because sperm are in constant production by the millions it is easy for something to go wrong. On a more positive note, it is also fairly simple to work on the factors we have discussed and give sperm the best chance to do their job, and raise male fertility levels once more.
So what can men, and all of us, do for the best chance of avoiding infertility, or even once a diagnosis has been made?
Each of these issues can be tackled and together could add up to amounts that can hold back the creeping statistics on male infertility.
First off, general health and wellbeing is always important but never more so than when you are on the path to conceiving. Eating well, avoiding too much sugar and switching to organics wherever possible ensure you are getting the best fuel into your body.
Give your body the chance to rest and repair by getting enough sleep – 8 hours a day should be the aim. But also, get active. Take some time for yourself to start an activity you’ve always wanted to try or enjoyed when you were young.
These tips will help with stress-busting too. Exercise produces great hormones to combat the stress-related ones. Getting enough sleep and downtime will help too. If you regularly feel stressed out then maybe look into mindfulness and meditation, try to avoid working after-hours and limit your screen time.
Limiting your screen time on a cell phone, especially in the evening, will help you sleep better and also avoid getting drawn into answering work emails and the like. But what about that cell phone radiation? Some experts described it as “cooking” sperm, which could put back all your hard work in other areas.
An anti-radiation phone case blocks the cell phone radiation from passing through your body, bouncing it back away. You can still use your phone as normal – you don’t need to completely give up your cell to work on your fertility, thankfully. Or protect the specific body parts with special radiation shielding briefs.
Once you understand all these different factors in male infertility you start to see where changes can be made. Most of these changes will also benefit your overall quality of life and thinking about starting a family is just the motivation you need. It’s still possible to buck the trend of dropping sperm counts.
How Male Infertility Is An Increasingly Modern Problem
In 1973 the UK entered the European Union, Pink Floyd released Dark Side of the Moon and the Watergate scandal picked up steam. Since 1973, sperm counts have dropped by 52%.
At an average rate of 1.4% a year, the sperm count of Western men has been falling for decades.
It’s a shocking fact and a shocking number. The modern world is supposed to bring more opportunity, more innovation. Instead, we are confronted by an increasingly modern problem. Infertility isn’t a uniquely modern problem, though it is becoming an urgent one.
To our ancient ancestors thousands of years ago the whole process of conception, pregnancy, and childbirth was mysterious. The easiest analogy was the fertility of the earth, of agriculture, and we owe a lot of the language and concepts to that still. The ideas of Mother Earth, and “planting a seed” have been around almost as long as humanity has.
Fertility deities were big business: gods and goddesses that could promote fertility and the getting of many children. Across the world, there are fertility myths, gods, rituals and rites. Independent of each other, from Scandinavia to the Indigenous Australians and the empires in Central and South America.
Childbirth was incredibly dangerous. Plus, the responsibility for fertility solely fell to the woman. Any medical or religious response to a lack of children was centered around her. Male infertility was not considered as a factor.
Treatments for fertility continued to be centered around women and it was viewed as a female “problem” throughout much of history. Even now much of the emphasis is on the woman. However, the facts paint a different picture. The NHS says that 35-40% of trouble conceiving is thought to be an issue with the female partner, and the same 35-40% with the male. The rest is simply unknown. But it shows that the problem has an equal chance of being with either partner and either sex.
The rise of assisted reproductive technology in the 1970s led some people to claim that infertility was “invented” alongside the first “test tube baby.” We know that’s not the case and that attempts at treating infertility have been around for a long time.
Something has happened and has become increasingly more prominent since the 1970s though. Sperm counts have been dropping across the globe. Sperm counts in Western men have halved in the last 40 years. Clearly, male infertility is on the rise and it has led some news outlets to make near-apocalyptic predictions for the future of humanity.
It’s now thought that infertility affects one in 25 men. As many as one in five otherwise healthy young men between the ages of 18 and 25 have low sperm counts that put them at risk of infertility according to Professor Niels Shakkebaek from the University of Copenhagen.
Even the official measurements of male fertility have undergone some massaging. The official definition of infertility in men used to be less than 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Now that the average sperm count has dropped to around 20-40 million sperm per milliliter the official designation of low has been dropped too. An official low sperm count has been slashed by a quarter, down to under 15 million.
Using the falling average the official definition of male infertility has been massively changed. Overnight a man could have gone from classified as infertile to average. Clearly, this isn’t based on any science, just on the downward trajectory of male fertility.
Talking about such big numbers on a global scale can be overwhelming. It also blinds us to the very real emotional trauma and difficulties that infertility can cause. Behind all these statistics are real people, wanting desperately to start a family but instead going through invasive testing, expensive medical procedures, and a lot of heartbreak.
The emotional burden falls harder on men than society at large might expect. Difficulty conceiving and a diagnosis of infertility is stressful and upsetting. Men generally feel less able to express their emotions, and much of the focus on infertility is on women. But men also carry feelings of shame, anger, grief, helplessness, and frustration. This can be compounded by feeling they have to suppress these feelings in order to be supportive of their partner.
So why is this happening? What about our modern world has caused this massive drop in male fertility? There are many theories and research is ongoing. No definitive answer has been put forward. Perhaps because there are a number of factors at play, all contributing to an individual diagnosis and the general decline.
There are the obvious variables, like genetic predisposition and pre-existing illnesses or conditions. Layered on top of these hands dealt by fate are many other factors. And most of them have become much bigger issues since the 1970s.
There are environmental factors like pesticides or chemicals in our water and food. Leaked from plastics, introduced by modern farming practices, genetically modified organisms, antibiotics and hormones fed to our meat. In the last few decades, these fields have seen huge changes. These chemicals enter our body through our food and drink and are known to have changed the natural running of the body. They could well be having an effect on male fertility.
Another candidate, becoming more and more ubiquitous since the late 1960s and found in our water supply is the female hormone, oestrogen, from the use of the contraceptive pill. Oestrogen levels have been rising in the water supply as the water is recycled through the sewage system. Oestrogen acts in opposition to testosterone, an essential hormone linked to the production of sperm. The less testosterone is produced, the fewer viable sperm there are.
Also related to the modern diet and lifestyle is obesity. Obesity is described as a modern epidemic, much as male infertility threatens to be. We know that a man’s general well-being, health and fitness, can be linked to his fertility. The health of the sperm can be influenced by the health of the man and weight plays a part in that. Obesity cuts testosterone production, essential for sperm production too.
Stress is yet another lifestyle factor tied to male infertility. It causes and can be caused by trouble conceiving and can affect all areas of life. Too much of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol disrupts the body’s natural functions.
Not only does stress have a physical effect on the body but it can contribute to less of the act of babymaking too. It is often closely intertwined with someone’s health and fitness, causing over eating or a lack of exercise. It can disrupt sleep, which is essential to our wellbeing.
Another modern convenience: mobile phones were barely being developed in the 70s and now they are an essential part of everyday life. The growth of this technology has been unprecedented in such a short amount of time. It also goes hand in hand during this last decade with the blanket coverage of WiFi and devices using wireless technologies.
Increasing numbers of scientific studies and medical research links mobile phone radiation with damage to cells and DNA, including sperm. The radiation that powers our phones and WiFi networks has been described by some experts as “cooking” sperm.
At the same time as all this, it seems that we live in an age of increasing regulation. We expect these concerns to be thoroughly tested and vetted against. That’s not always the case. With mobile phones, for example, there just hasn’t been the opportunity to survey the long-term effects. We don’t fully know the effect of WiFi networks in schools, or what decades-worth of carrying a phone around in your trouser pocket might be doing to your body and your sperm.
One thing is clear, the modern world is not good for male fertility. Sperm counts in Western men have halved in the last 40 years at the same time as many other potential factors have increased. Anyone of these factors and any combination of them could be making the critical difference in the numbers game of male fertility. The good news is that the spotlight is finally turning onto the issue and it’s not too late.
Men may not be able to do anything about their genetics but still, male fertility is robust and is not set in stone. Men can influence their fertility and can start making changes now that will have effects within the next six weeks or so thanks to the regenerating nature of sperm
Lifestyle changes such as exercising more, tackling stress and going organic can turn back the clock on these modern maladies. You can keep the modern gadgetry too, with an anti-radiation mobile phone case.
The modern encroachment of all these infertility factors is avoidable. Modern technology can fight the ill effects of other modern technologies. Research can show us how to take better care of our bodies despite all the modern temptations and a difficult environment. Greater understanding of the impact modern life is having on our planet and our bodies is leading a revolt against intensive farming practices, or against stress. Medical science is tackling infertility in new and exciting ways.
Male infertility is an increasingly modern problem but the solutions are modern too and the modern world gives us the tools to understand and combat the issue.
Protect yourself against your mobile phone’s harmful radiation in the most stylish way – with a WaveWall anti-radiation phone case. www.wavewallcases.com
Detech your bedroom
Do This ONE Thing to Improve Your Fertility Immediately
How to Rock Your Fertility Journey, Even if You’re Over 40
Study Points To Fertility As A Leading Economic Indicator
Good, Good, Good, Good Vibrations
Eat To Beat Infertility
Summer Snacks To Kick Start Your Fertility
French ethics body urges end to fertility treatment bans
Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) join our Fertility Journeys
What is the Future Family fertility age test?
- Food & Drink1 year ago
Eat To Beat Infertility
- Fertility Life1 year ago
Summer Snacks To Kick Start Your Fertility
- Fertility 3601 year ago
French ethics body urges end to fertility treatment bans
- Fertility Journeys1 year ago
Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) join our Fertility Journeys
- Fertility 3601 year ago
What is the Future Family fertility age test?
- Legal1 year ago
Our new experts from Laytons Solicitors address the legal issues around starting a family
- Fertility Shows1 year ago
The my future family fertility show returns in september
- Fertility Life1 year ago
Pamela & Ian share their very personal fertility journey story