Myth busting: Infertility is always a woman’s issue


14 May 2018

Infertility is an issue that affects one in six Australian couples trying to conceive.

Infertility is an issue that affects one in six Australian couples trying to conceive. It’s a common myth that this is always due to female factors. Wrong! After all, there are two sides to every coin. The truth is, male infertility accounts for approximately 40% of couples struggling to conceive. The good news is most couples will conceive within two-three months of trying, with 85% of couples finding success within in the first 12 months.

Let’s bust the myth that infertility is always a woman’s issue wide open and examine how infertility can also affect men.

1. Lifestyle factors
It may seem obvious but obesity, diet, stress, excessive consumption of alcohol and smoking can all have a significant negative impact on sperm production and quality. Therefore it’s important to lead a healthy lifestyle and have a healthy diet to help keep sperm production high. It’s recommended to have a diet that includes fibre-rich foods, such as whole grain rice, nuts and dried fruit; healthy monounsaturated fats such as avocado, almonds and macadamia nuts; and moderate amounts of lean protein such as white-meat poultry or lean beef [1]. By improving lifestyle and diet, there is a better chance of healthier sperm and an overall higher sperm count. There is also said to be a link between improving these lifestyle factors and a regeneration of healthy sperm after approximately three months.

2. Medications
It’s been suggested that some medications can have a negative impact on sperm production and quality. Even simple medications such as some antibiotics can affect male fertility. For example, studies have shown that Asthma is often treated with corticosteroids which can affect sperm production [2]. If you are trying to conceive, it is always wise to check with your GP or fertility specialist about any prescribed medication that you or your partner may be taking for a separate health condition. Don’t panic though! In the majority of cases there are alternative medications that won’t affect fertility that can be taken.

3. Heat
It is a little known fact but sperm production is far more effective at a cooler temperature. This is why the testicles – a key instrument in male fertility – are located in the scrotum. The scrotum is on average two degrees cooler than the average core body temperature. A consistent overheating of the genital area may have a negative impact fertility, with Monash IVF Group fertility specialist Professor Kelton Tremellon advising men to avoid saunas, spas and hot baths when trying to conceive. Even heat from an electronic device can have an impact. So remember to keep those laptops off your lap!

4. Hormonal issues
In 30-40% of cases of male infertility, the problem starts with the testicles. . The testicles, or testes, are the glands that produce sperm and testosterone (the main male sex hormone). Issues with testosterone production can arise in the form of infections, in turn damaging the sperm outflow channels which affects fertility. Other issues with the testes can include testicular cancer or failure of the testicles to descend into the scrotum early in life (a condition known as cryptorchidism). Don’t worry, Dr Tremellon advises that treatment with hormone injections such as LH (Luteinizing hormone) and FSH (Follicle-stimulating hormone) is usually successful with hormone related issues.

5. Lower sperm production
Lower sperm production is another factor that can lead to male infertility. Genetic factors comprise a small percentage of fertility issues that affect men and can have a direct correlation to lower sperm production. Men are usually born with one X and one Y chromosome, but an example of a rare genetic issue is a break in those chromosomes or when parts of the male Y chromosome are missing. Although these kinds of genetic issues can affect fertility, they are very rare and can be easily discovered by a fertility specialist who can discuss treatment options to counteract these obstacles, such as IVF with ICSI or genetic testing.

Things to remember

Myth: Infertility is always a woman’s issue. Truth: Men can be just as affected by infertility as women!

After a woman’s age, male factor infertility is the next most common cause of infertility. Thankfully, the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed and can be treated with some simple lifestyle adjustments, or if needed, with fertility treatment such as IVF with intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).

If you have any concerns, male infertility can often be diagnosed by a semen analysis test, a physical examination or a testicular biopsy performed by a fertility specialist.

So next time you hear someone say “infertility is a women’s issue”, you can bust that myth!

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