It's never easy to talk about having a fertility problem, and many people who have difficulty conceiving prefer not to tell anyone beyond their very close family and friends. Now, a new study has revealed quite what a taboo subject infertility still is for many men.
The survey, released by Nuffield Health for National Fertility Awareness Week in partnership with Infertility Network UK. found that more than half of all men who responded did not feel able to discuss fertility concerns with their partners, let alone their wider network. What's more, nearly half of the men said that they would not be open to discussing their fertility with their GP either.
I suppose I shouldn't find this surprising. When couples get in touch about fertility problems, it's nearly always a woman who makes contact. The support groups I run for Infertility Network UK are open to both men and women, but the majority of those who come along are female with a few male partners who attend now and again. Sometimes, men are very open and happy to talk once they're at a meeting, but most admit that their fertility isn't a subject they'd want to be discussing with their mates at the pub. However, the fact that this study found that so many men don't even feel comfortable talking to their partner about fertility is very sad.
More than 2000 men from around the country were questioned for the survey, which also revealed that many were unaware of the significant impact that their lifestyle choices could have on their fertility. Half of those surveyed did not know that age could have a negative impact on fertility, and 48% were unaware that being overweight or obese might make a difference. Only 64% were aware of the effect of alcohol and smoking on fertility, and many of the group who did know the risks were still smoking or regularly consuming excessive quantities of alcohol. One result which was surprising was that 55% of the men surveyed did not know that sexually-transmitted infections can affect fertility, although this is nearly always mentioned when the risks of sexually-transmitted infections such as chlamydia are listed.
The survey also looked at the impact fertility problems have on men's lives. Around a third of those surveyed admitted to having experienced fertility issues, and of those, the majority said that this had a negative impact on their relationship with their partner. One in three said it had a negative influence on their work life, and 40% also felt it had had an adverse effect on their mental health.
One of the key themes of National Fertility Awareness Week has been the fact that men matter too - that they also experience sadness and pain when they are trying unsuccessfully to be parents. The survey showed that many men feel that they do not get as much support and information as they would like about fertility issues.
When a couple have difficulty conceiving, it is just as likely to be a male fertility problem as a female one yet it is evident that all too often men don't feel comfortable about seeking help. Getting the message across that fertility isn't just a women's problem may help to raise awareness and ensure that men who face fertility problems are better informed and supported in the future.