What are the signs of infertility in men, how does infertility affect men’s mental health, and what are the signs and symptoms of a low sperm count. We tackle all this and more.
When you look at a man and a woman couple there’s one thing you can almost guarantee, despite the differences in character and personality, women will worry about infertility problems first!
There will be things a woman will identify and struggle with, only for her partner to look at her as if she’s completely lost the plot.
She may be feeling down when he is feeling up. She may ask her partner, ‘how are you going?’ expecting an answer about his take on the fertility challenges ahead. He’ll answer: ‘fine’, thinking she’s asking ask him how he’s… well, going!
What are the signs of infertility in males?
As with females, the main sign of male infertility is when a man can’t conceive a child. Although there are other signs, unfortunately this is usually the time most males discover they may have an issue.
According to the MayoClinic, there are a number of signs though that could be cause for infertility in males. This includes:
- Problems with sexual function — for example, difficulty with ejaculation or small volumes of fluid ejaculated, reduced sexual desire, or difficulty maintaining an erection
- Pain, swelling or a lump in the testicle area
- Recurrent respiratory infections
- Inability to smell
- Abnormal breast growth
- Decreased facial or body hair
- A lower than normal sperm count
Of the issues above, a lower than normal sperm count is usually the reason for males having difficult in conceiving.
What are the causes of a low sperm count?
There are a multitude of issues that can cause a low sperm count in males. Some of these are inherited, others are induced or self-induced and others can be due to the environment around you. The MayoClinic groups the causes of low sperm count into the following three categories:
- Ejaculation problems
- Antibodies that attack sperm
- Undescended testicles
- Hormone imbalances
- Defects of tubules that transport sperm
- Chromosome defects
- Celiac disease
- Certain medications
- Prior surgeries.
- Industrial chemicals
- Radiation or X-rays
- Overheating the testicles.
Health, lifestyle and other causes
- Drug use
- Alcohol use
As you can see a number of these things can be controlled. Smoking, drinking excessively, stress, over eating or under exercising, can all lead to low sperm counts and/or sperm that are not virulent.
How does a man check his sperm count?
You can go to your physician or GP if you’re at all concerned about your sperm count, or you’ve been having difficulty in conceiving. Often the GP will run tests on both the male and female to find out what may be going on.
If you think you may have a low sperm count, you can also check your sperm count from home with a Sperm Count Home Fertility test. We recommend this as a first course of action, and following up with your GP if your sperm count is low.
Male infertility and mental health
So does infertility affect men?
Based on the occasional non-committal answer, no. Based on their seeming lack of interest at all the fertility pamphlets their partner brings home from the clinic, no…
But of course it does … just in different ways.
The very good book Swimming Upstream: the struggle to conceive looks into this very fact. We spoke to the Author, David Rawlings, who had this to say
I asked a lot of men and I found that even though there may be reasons that are personal to a man as an individual, there are some common ways in which infertility affects men … it’s just their partners don’t always know how to read the signs.
Funnily enough, a lot of women who have bought David’s book Swimming Upstream say they can understand what’s going on inside their partner’s head … including:
Being a Man
Having children is also a mark of being a man.
Many times a prospective father has been slapped on the back for his good work in getting his partner pregnant. Who knows whether he was fuelled up on Scotch for his 30-second shot at manhood? He’s a hero.
Sometimes you’ll hear the phrase ‘at least you’re not shooting blanks mate’.
If fathering a child carries such a mantle of being a super-stud, logically it would follow that if you can’t father a child, you are less of a man than a guy who can.
David interviewed a number of men for Swimming Upstream and they all mentioned that when they got an abnormal sperm test result, it knocked the wind out of their masculine sails.
But you don’t even need a bad sperm test to question your manhood. David experienced this very problem himself:
My wife and I fall under the ‘unexplained infertility’ category but still heard the ‘shooting blanks’ or ‘can’t get it up’ comments because my wife wasn’t pregnant. Even though I had a piece of paper from the lab that said I was okay.
Their desire to be a father
Yes, men want children. (More about that in a later article). It’s a social cliché that women have a biological clock that starts ticking when they’re ready to have a baby. They reach their late 20s or 30s and gravitate towards every baby within 50 metres. They look wistfully into the shop windows of babywear stores.
Now while men don’t usually gather in groups admiring tiny cardigans or talk to their friends about the dream to hold their own child, they have a biological clock, however faint the ticking.
Ask any first-time father as he is holding his newborn son 30 seconds after he is delivered if he misses his ‘freedom’. The answer will always be no.
You can also see it when you hear interviews with stars of sport, entertainment or business. These men have scaled the heights in their chosen fields and have stood at the top of a world full of challenges. They’ve achieved things that most men dream about, yet you hear time and again that the greatest moment of their life was ‘when my son was born’ or ‘when I delivered my little girl’.
They can look past million-dollar deals, last-second clutch plays to win championships or holding an Oscar – and fondly remember their greatest moment as fatherhood.
Supporting their partner
Most men I’ve talked to have said the hardest part about fertility treatment was supporting their partner and seeing them go through emotional, physical and social rollercoasters. They wanted to protect them from it.
This is how it usually happens: when first dealing with the spectre of fertility problems, the man will often try to get on top of it with stony silence or by being positive as a way to support their partner.
Now while both may be traditional male role models for dealing with problems, neither one is particularly helpful in working through an issue together with a woman – especially when she is looking to be responded to and comforted or recognised as having valid, genuine emotions and reactions.
The technical term for emotionally withdrawing is alexithymia. We call it ‘being a guy’.
And the fact that men and women communicate in different ways also throws a spanner into the works.
When coping with an issue, men on average don’t talk about it. They prefer to sort it out themselves. This is especially the case with issues that infringe on an intimate part of their life. It’s a case of keeping weaknesses to yourself. Men can go two ways when dealing with something major in their life. They will either force themselves on the situation and take control or move onto something else.
And with fertility, almost all of the hundreds of men that David spoke to when researching his book said the same thing: ‘it’s a personal issue, so I find it hard to talk to anyone.’
Unfortunately, some women interpret their partner’s silence as indifference… which may not be the case at all.
For more expert advice on infertility, check out our Pregnancy: Infertility section.