Couples that have begun their fertility journey may have noticed that most of the attention is placed on the woman, even though male infertility is just as likely to be the cause as female infertility. (Overall, one-third of infertility cases are caused by male reproductive issues, one-third by female reproductive issues, and one-third by both male and female reproductive issues or by unknown factors, according to this CDC source.)
Cambridge University medical sociologist Liberty Barnes, author of Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity, explains part of the reason for this in a Today.com blog post:
For about a hundred years, we’ve had two basic assumptions that have shaped medical science and reproductive research. The first is that having babies is a woman’s work and the social myth goes, a woman will do anything to get pregnant. At a certain age, women are painted as these people just desperate to have children, who will undergo any kind of fertility treatment necessary.
The second is that a man’s masculinity is tied to his virility. Think about the expressions we use: “That takes balls” or “He’s shooting blanks.”
Barnes calls out many social and cultural reasons male infertility– or subfertility–is often ignored. Among the repercussions are that there is very little emphasis on enhancing male fertility in a typical Western course of treatment. Studies have shown that supplements like Co-Q10, L-Arginine, and L-Carnitine boost sperm parameters for subfertile males, however many fertility clinics don’t recommend these or any male preparation protocol for IUI and IVF patients. Also in many states, including Illinois, male-factor infertility is not covered by most health insurance policies (while most female fertility medical treatments, including IVF, are covered). This often means that women bear the brunt of attending frequent fertility appointments, undergoing physically taxing treatments, and feeling the “blame” for the couples’ difficulty in conceiving a child.
Collaborative Care recognizes the importance of identifying and treating male subfertility, ie. low sperm count (oligospermia) and poor morphology (teratozoospermia). For male-factor infertility cases, we typically see the male partner weekly for about three months, which is the timeframe needed to influence sperm development, or spermatogenesis. We focus on diet, acupuncture, supplements and Chinese herbs. Often that may be all that is needed for a couple to get pregnant naturally, or significantly improve embryo quality for a future IVF cycle.
In addition to the societal reasons for ignoring male infertility that Barnes points out, improving male fertility may take a little more time than a process like IVF. Collaborative Care aims to improve male–and female–fertility, whereas processes like IVF bypass issues with sperm and egg quality.
For patients Jen and Nick, treating male-factor fertility was part of the process to help them achieve pregnancy, as you can see in their testimonial video: Unexplained Ongoing Infertility: Jen & Nick’s Success Story.