Understanding Male Infertility
Male infertility isn’t something we often talk about, so here’s what you need to know.
At a glance:
If you have a male partner and are thinking about starting a family together, it’s important to be aware of how male infertility could affect your journey to parenthood. It isn’t something we typically talk about – the truth is, most of the emphasis tends to be on women’s fertility challenges – but given that male fertility is a factor for a significant number of couples struggling with fertility, it’s well worth being aware of.
The major contributors to male infertility can be divided into four groups:
In 40 per cent of male infertility cases the cause is unknown, but seeing a specialist can help identify any factors that are evident. So let’s explore those a little further.
Problems with sperm
It’s believed that issues with sperm numbers or quality are due to genetic problems. Sperm problems include azoospermia, where the semen doesn’t contain any sperm; oligospermia, where ejaculation doesn’t contain enough sperm for conception; abnormal shaped sperm, meaning it can’t penetrate the surface of the egg; or poor motility, meaning the sperm swim badly or not at all.
Obstructions to sperm’s passage
These are responsible for one in three male infertility cases, so to better understand it, here’s a very quick biology lesson about how sperm moves through a man’s body.
After they’re made in the testicles, sperm pass through a series of tubes called the epididymis – a process which takes two to 10 days – followed by a larger tube called the vas deferens, which empties the sperm into the ejaculatory duct. From there, it’s mixed with seminal fluid from the seminal vesicles and the prostate gland. During ejaculation, muscular contractions force it into the urethra and out of the penis.
A blockage or absence of any of these tubes (due to vasectomy or injury, for example) can cause fertility problems.
Here are some of the issues that fall under the umbrella of functional issues:
Even though you can’t ‘prevent’ male infertility, there’s plenty you can do to decrease the possibility of it affecting you. Here’s how:
Supporting your male partner
Male infertility is a sensitive topic, so it’s important for men to find people they can count on to be supportive, starting with their partner. Society tends to focus on female infertility, so it can be difficult for men diagnosed with male infertility to feel supported.
If your partner has been diagnosed with male infertility, here are some ways you can help:
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