A survey of male infertility finds that it is ’emasculating, its treatment one-sided and insensitive and emotional support is lacking.’
A new survey by national charity Fertility Network UK and researchers at Leeds Beckett University has shown that infertility is not just an emotional strain for women – it also hits men hard.
The survey, released during National Fertility Awareness Week (30 Oct – 5 Nov 17) says that infertility can affect men’s mental health, self-esteem, relationships, sex life, masculinity, career and finances.
Men also feel that the treatment offered is one-sided and insensitive and that there is little emotional support for them. Men have said that they wish to see a change from infertility being seen as a ‘women’s issue’ and want to see improved support for men, especially online.
Most fo the men surveyed had personal experience of male factor infertility: 51 per cent of couple where the infertility was on the man’s side alone; 15 per cent on both sides; and 19 per cent where there was unexplained infertility or a diagnosis was nt possible to find. Most of the respondents to the survey had been attempting to concieve for five years.
Sadly, 93% said that their well-being had been adversely affected by infertility. Men said that they felt their fertility issues were emasculating, distressing and isolating, affecting their self-identity causing stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.
Comments from the survey included:
‘The most upsetting, dark and emasculating experience of my life.’
‘It made me feel less of a man’; ‘I now suffer with anxiety.’
‘It made me feel worthless that I couldn’t have kids.’
It also affected a couple’s sex life.
‘Our sex life immediately took a hit…’; ‘Seeing a baby I would feel jealousy, envy and anger…’
‘I pushed my wife away… I didn’t understand why she would want to be with me when I couldn’t give her the child she so wanted.’
‘I started rejecting my wife and told her to leave me… I was having problems having sex’
It also felt isolating.
‘We have drifted from friends who have children. You feel like you’re stuck in a void of society, alone on an island’
Other worrying factors were that men felt as if they had no autonomy and were not an important part of the process of trying to concieve:
‘The whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultant’s letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife. There seems to be no equality.’
‘I now know what it feels like to be identified on official documentation… as an appendage to one’s spouse.’
‘Fertility treatment needs to become less female-centric.’
‘A very rude GP … then on the analysis result, rather than explaining the result, called me at work to ask if I had had a vasectomy’
Men said that support was mostly aimed at their spouses and partners.
‘There’s been no support and no follow up’; ‘I haven’t found any support groups for men.’
‘Fertility clinic just told us they could not do anything…if it is a male they write them off.’
‘I set up my own [internet forum] due to lack of support groups for men.’
Susan Seenan, chief executive of Fertility Network UK said: “Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create the family they long for without medical help they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do, yet our major new survey with Leeds Beckett University shows that men’s needs are far too often ignored, with support scarce before, during and after fertility treatment. This is unacceptable; we hope this survey will challenge the silence around male infertility and facilitate more male support groups.”
Dr Esmee Hanna, lead researcher, said: “We know from this survey and our previous research that men find infertility an isolating and emotionally distressing experience. This survey shows just how impactful fertility issues can be to men’s lives, including on their work, relationships and self-identities. There sadly still remains stigma and taboo about male infertility within society, but it is really encouraging that so many men shared their personal perspectives in this survey and that Fertility Network UK are leading the way in starting conversations about how fertility issues affect both men and women.”
Prof Brendan Gough, co-researcher, said: “The men who participated in our survey were only too pleased to share their stories with us, having never really had the opportunity to share their experiences with others before. As we have found with our previous studies, many men are keen to talk about their struggles with infertility, especially in safe spaces such as anonymous surveys and online forums. Looking ahead, we would encourage fertility services to accommodate men’s perspectives during consultations and treatment regimes, and hope that a range of support options could be made available to men experiencing infertility.”