Watching Rhod Gilbert’s documentary ‘Stand up to Infertility’ we learn that male fertility has dropped by 50% over the last 40 years and according to a fertility specialist on the programme “21st century living” is to blame. Whether it’s protein shakes, environmental factors, obesity, sport, nothing has been concluded: nobody knows for sure what causes male infertility.
There has not been enough research into male infertility
The staggering 400million pound fertility industry opts to zoom in on female infertility- which is frankly hard to believe when we live in a time where ‘womens problems’ such as endometriosis take years to diagnose due to a lack of funding spent on these problems.
Healthcare is not gender neutral
‘Women have traditionally been been excluded from clinical trials… even though immune, endocrine, cardiovascular and reproductive systems operate differently in men and women’.
The backlash of this is that we have a lack of understanding on the effects that medication has on women which has been the cause of many disasters- some even fateful.
It’s not just medical trials where women have been excluded
Milli Hill writer of The Positive Birth Book re-tweeted a photo of a council meeting for women’s maternity services and everyone at the table was male apart from one woman who blended in amongst the grey suits and white shirts. Sadly this is not an uncommon sight- it seems to be the same story both in the UK and USA.
But why if there are boardrooms full of men is there a distinct lack of research into male infertility? It doesn’t add up
The 2018 paper Gaps in male infertility health services research indicates that male infertility is a factor in 50% of all cases- again a staggering statistic.
One argument is that there are a lack of andrologists (a specialist whose focus is male fertility) compared with gynaecologists, and few urologists with an interest in male infertility.
Perhaps there is more focus on women’s’ reproductive health as it has long been a misconception that infertility lies with women. We now know this not to be the case.
Miscarriages and damaged sperm
A 2019 article from the Guardian stated that ‘damaged sperm could be to the reason for repeated miscarriages’.
Men are urged to undergo fertility tests if their partner has experienced frequent miscarriages. If there is a problem with the sperm then hopefully this can be addressed so that the couple can then go on to conceive and have a healthy pregnancy.
Where are the male fertility support groups?
On failing to find a support group for male infertility that he could attend Rhod Gilbert set one up himself.
For a one off afternoon Rhod Gilbert brought a group men together to meet in a pub (pre covid times) to talk infertility.
Some of the men stayed quiet and looked like they really didn’t want to be there- the dread of their personal life being aired on BBC tv drenched across their faces, whilst a couple of men chatted away enthusiastically- seemingly relieved to have an outlet for their suffering.
At times the documentary was difficult to watch.
It was crippling to hear the lively man in Rhod’s support group say his partner told him “it’s your fault we can’t have children”.
There was another story from a man who lost his job and got into debt from excessive buying in an attempt to conceal the pain that male infertility caused him.
A poignant moment was when Gilbert met Professor Benjamin Zephaniah in his office at Brunell University; Zephaniah spoke about the importance of men learning to talk- saying “it’s killing us”. Zephaniah spoke of his own infertility and the moment he learnt he wouldn’t be able to have biological children of his own and the grief that came with this.
We can only hope that following Rhod’s campaign more men feel comfortable to discuss their infertility and that more research is done into male fertility.