By Professor Geeta Nargund, Medical Director of CREATE Fertility
An estimated 7% of men globally are impacted by infertility, however, reproductive health and infertility are still considered primarily a women’s issue. This misinformed focus not only places increased responsibility on women and their fertility health but also reinforces unhelpful stigmas around male infertility.
This emphasises how important it is that both men and women have the right information to make educated and informed decisions about their reproductive health. What, then, are the key facts that men need to know about their fertility?
The male ‘biological clock’
The news of male celebrities such as Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, and Richard Gere fathering children at an older age dangerously reinforces the idea that men don’t have a biological clock.
Yet, like a woman’s follicles (eggs), the quantity and quality of sperm naturally declines as men get older. Research undertaken by myself and my co-authors last year shows just that; live birth rates fall from 32.8% when the paternal age is below 35 to 27.9% when the age is between 40 and 44. In fact, this figure drops even further when the male partner is above 55 years old.
This data provides strong evidence that men, like women, have a biological clock.
As such, the impact that the male biological clock has on a couple’s fertility must always be considered and it must also be ensured that men, regardless of their age, understand that age matters and is a factor that can affect their fertility.
Causes of male infertility
While lifestyle factors including excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, and a lack of exercise can increase the risk of infertility, it is equally important that men consider medical or genetic conditions that can negatively impact fertility. For instance, certain sexually transmitted infections can increase the risk of infertility for both men and women.
There are also cases when specific disorders of male reproductive organs can be the reason for an individual’s infertility. Disorders can include testicular tumours, varicoceles (prominent veins), or even the blockage of the ejaculatory ducts, as well as undescended testis. There are also grave instances of azoospermia, a disorder that affects 1% of the male population, where the seminal fluid has no sperm at all.
Good fertility health
A strong understanding of male infertility and the factors that can cause it can encourage healthier behaviours. Positive and simple lifestyle fixes such as actively working to lower stress levels, significantly reducing alcohol intake, consistent exercise, consuming a healthy and varied diet, and stopping smoking can help boost fertility.
However, every couple’s situation is different as many factors can impact fertility. Therefore, if a couple has been trying to conceive for a significant amount of time, it is vital that they consult a medical professional to discuss their next steps including the fertility tests and treatments available to them.
A bright future?
While the World Health Organisation recently revealed that roughly 17.5% of the adult population is impacted by infertility, pointing to a drastic decline in male fertility, awareness of the impact of the male biological clock as well as the medical conditions and lifestyle choices that impact fertility can help men make educated choices regarding their fertility health.
As such, with the right education, the future is bright for male fertility. Indeed, education and awareness on how to protect our fertility health have the power to transform society’s gendered idea of fertility, which would assist in dismantling social stigmas around male infertility and help tackle the growing number of cases of infertility across the globe. Knowledge is power.