Infertility affects 10 to 15% of couples who are trying to conceive. Men, as well as women, are responsible for 50% of all cases of infertility.1 There are a number of contributing factors that lead to male infertility, but because men are often stereotyped as overly sexual, they often feel an attack on their masculinity when they are unable to get their partner pregnant. The relationship between stress and infertility is often ignored, yet increased anxiety induces feelings of stress, further contributing to infertility in men.2
What is Male Infertility?
Infertility is defined as the inability to conceive a child after at least 12 months of unprotected sexual intercourse.3 It is caused by numerous medical, lifestyle, and environmental factors. Medical causes of male infertility include sexually transmitted infections, poor diet and nutrition, history of cancer-related treatments, steroid use, family history of genetic disorders, some chronic disease, use of certain prescription drugs, and advancing age.4 Contributing lifestyle and environmental factors include alcohol consumption and smoking, illegal drug use, stress, use of certain lubricants, exposure to toxic substances, and prolonged exposure to high heat in the testicular area.4
Because infertility is caused by a number of varying factors, there are different treatments offered to treat male infertility. These treatments include hormone therapy, electroejaculation, sperm retrieval, in vitro fertilization, intracytoplasmic sperm injection, treatment of infections of the genital tract, and reconstructive procedures of the reproductive region.4
Male Infertility and Stress:
While often overlooked, emotional stress plays a large part in infertility. Stress interferes with hormones that affect sperm production, making it difficult for the sperm to actually hit its target; the ovum.4
If stress leads to infertility, then infertility leads to more stress. A vicious cycle is formed with what looks like a dead end. This emotional strain often leads to depression, low self esteem, and eventual marital problems, which contribute to the stress couples already face.4
Infertility is a complicated issue for men, who are already more reluctant than women to frequent a physician. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, women are 100% more likely to seek preventive healthcare than men.5 A lack of knowledge combined with a fear of having their masculinity judged, often prevents men from seeking the physiological or psychological help they may need. Though it may seem simpler and less embarrassing to deal with the issues alone, being more proactive will often yield a better result.
The following is a list of tips and strategies to get through tough times when dealing with male infertility:
• Communicate! Men and women deal differently with infertility issues. Women choose to discuss their feelings and procedures while men are more silent. Because infertility is a touchy subject within relationships, make sure your partner knows when you want to take time out from talking about the issue and when you want to discuss it.4
• Take control! Understand the processes involved with infertility.4
• Ask questions! Educate yourself on the issues. You know your body and your mind best, so when consulting a medical professional, you are equipped with the knowledge to get the answers you need.4
• De-stress! Do something to relax your mind like playing sports or working out. De-stressing releases endorphins, which boost your libido!4
• Give and get support. Remember to make time for your partner. Both of you may need someone to talk to. Support each other and get any extra help you may need.4
Keep in mind the vicious cycle stress and infertility creates: stress leads to infertility and infertility leads to stress. Use the list of tips and strategies provided to deal with stress so that it produces minimal health effects.
Please consult a physician if problems arise, as infertility may be a multi-factorial issue.
1. Said, Tamer. Emotional Stress and Male Infertility. Indian Journal of Medical Research. September 1, 2008
2. Healthy Sperm: Improving Your Fertility. Mayo Clinic. December 16, 2008
3. Dean, John. “Male Infertility Problems” Netdoctor. 2005. Accessed at http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/menshealth/facts/malefertility.htm
4. In the Know: What No One Tells You About Male Infertility. 2009
5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Press Release: New Study Profiles Women’s Use of Health Care. July 26, 2001