Male fertility levels have been in a steady decline since the 1970s and this has led to some apocalyptic headlines.
The news reports paint a bleak picture of the future and fiction isn’t far behind. A world of declining fertility is a scary thought, not just because of the personal tragedy but what it could do to society as a whole. It’s an idea that has been well-used, from Children of Men to The Handmaid’s Tale.
Will new technology, medical research and scientific progress save us?
With our reliance on technological innovation, it’s easy to assume that tech will save us. “Someone” will invent “something” and fix everything for us. Fertility treatment has benefitted from amazing leaps in scientific progress like IVF – surely something like that will come along to solve male infertility?
That’s possible, and it’s easy to put all our faith in that magical possibility, rather than taking any action ourselves. But waiting for science to come and save us isn’t a great plan. Instead, there’s lots we can do right now to prevent those dystopian futures of infertility from happening.
New tech that will help
Just like IVF paved the way for a new era in fertility treatment there will be new innovations, as well as a whole host of smaller progress.
One of the keys to fighting male infertility is being able to recognise it. Men can be understandably reluctant to seek help if they have concerns about their sperm count. Going to the doctor can feel like a lot of pressure or fuss over potentially nothing. This reluctance prevents timely diagnosis and can cause a problem.
To tackle this issue a new range of at home testing kits is becoming available. Men can order a discreet package and check their own sperm count. Some of these specimens are returned to a laboratory whereas others can use a mobile phone app to analyse sperm count from a sample right then and there.
Being able to do a quick and easy test in the privacy of your own home should encourage many more men to check their sperm count so they are aware of their fertility status.
In the further future there are all sorts of possibilities from stem cells to nanotechnology that might make a real difference for male infertility.
We don’t need to wait for new innovations
The good news is that we don’t have to sit idly by waiting for science and technology to swoop in and save us. There’s a lot that individual men, their families, and society as a whole can do to help. And yes, some technological innovations too.
Because sperm are being produced by the body all the time they are very sensitive to environmental factors. Women are born with all their eggs but sperm are in a constant process of being made. In a way this can be beneficial when it comes to infertility, as conditions can be changed that might give sperm production a better chance.
Of course, there are some factors that we can’t do much about. Individual genetics play a big part in how much sperm and of what quality a man will be able to make. But within those ranges there are lots of other factors.
Individual action to fight male infertility
General health and fitness can’t be overstated. Obesity can hinder healthy sperm production because it inhibits testosterone. Levels of testosterone production and sperm are inextricably linked. A poor diet and no exercise mean the body can’t run at optimal levels and will have an impact on sperm.
Related to diet is the issue of pesticides, antibiotics, and chemicals in our foods. Intensive farming practices have been on the rise since the 1970s and these chemicals are finding their way into humans. The best way to avoid them is to try to choose organic food as often as possible.
The quality of our food also extends to avoiding processed and junk foods. It’s the sort of advice that is good for everyone, but it’s especially good for sperm. This can be an issue for men who may be at a “healthy” weight but whose diet is made up primarily of junk food. Not being obese doesn’t mean the food is of good quality and rich in nutrients. Nutrients that are essential for your body’s sperm production.
Exercise is another factor that is good for everyone maintaining a healthy lifestyle. But this can be overdone. The use of body building steroids, other drugs, and – though it might seem counter-intuitive – testosterone supplements can actually damage sperm.
One of the first lifestyle changes men often make when trying to start a family is to give up vices like smoking, drug use, and alcohol.
Another hugely underestimated factor in male fertility is stress. The stress hormone does serious damage to the body and has all sorts of side effects. Including hampering testosterone and sperm production. In preparation for starting a family it’s important to start tackling your stress levels.
It can be tough for men to open up about stress, just like about fertility. But mental health is becoming more normalised. Meditation and mindfulness practices are popular and help tackle stress. Finding a hobby – maybe an active one to hit your exercise goals too – allows you to have space to relax and decompress and maybe socialise more.
Stress and sleep are very much linked. Stress can cause you to lose sleep and, the less sleep you get, the more stressed you are likely to be. Sleep is essential for the body and mind to reset and repair itself.
Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, stress, obesity, diabetes, and even heart disease. Not to mention making you more distracted, accident prone, and susceptible to bad moods. Everyone should be aiming for at least eight hours of sleep a night.
One of the reasons people are losing sleep is staying up on their phones, tablets and laptops late into the night. Whether playing games, browsing the web, or watching videos this isn’t just impacting on your sleep.
When you think about where most men keep their phones all day it’s in a front trouser pocket or on a belt – right next to where sperm are being produced. Putting the reproductive organs well within six inches of a phone and into the electromagnetic radiation zone that can pass through the body damaging cells and DNA. Using an anti-radiation phone case can block up to 85% of this radiation from reaching your body.
The research and social changes we need too
It’s hard to tackle a problem without fully understanding it, which is why more research into male infertility and its causes is needed. To understand why male fertility is in such a calamitous decline and to change our future we need more research and more data. There are many potential factors in male infertility that just aren’t getting the attention and research they need.
In the example of mobile phone radiation almost every study in the area calls for urgent further research. But it’s hard to get funding and there are issues with bias when studies are funded by the mobile phone industry itself.
There’s a shift that needs to happen in society too. The public perception is often that infertility is an issue for women. But the cause is equally as likely to be from the male side as the female side of the equation. And in many cases the cause can’t be determined.
This common misconception is tough for both men and women. Both feel stigmatised. Motherhood is intrinsically bound with womanhood in our society. As is fathering children tied to manhood. The emotional toll that affects both partners in a fertility journey is underestimated. Much of this falls to the male partner as outdated views mean he is supposed to be stoic and supportive, without his own emotional needs.
Of course, this is a very old-fashioned way of thinking and happily it is being challenged. There is more emphasis on men’s mental health now than there was in the 1970s. There is still a long way to go, however. Men need to feel able to open up about their feelings, about infertility and in general.
In order to properly tackle male infertility and its causes, it must stop being taboo. Men need to be able to take precautions to protect their fertility, seek help if they have concerns, and discuss their feelings openly. Without this it will be tough to have the important conversations needed.
It’s easy to get lost in the numbers of infertility and forget the individual people. The more we can be open about the struggles of infertility and receive support the more awareness will be raised. Behind the headlines of falling fertility are very real stories. It’s not science fiction – it’s a very real problem happening right now, and we must take action now.