Male infertility is emasculating, its treatment one-sided and insensitive, and emotional support is lacking, the first qualitative survey of men’s experiences of fertility problems has found.
The survey, conducted by national charity Fertility Network UK and researchers at Leeds Beckett University, was released during National Fertility Awareness Week, which runs until 5 November 2017.
The majority of respondents had direct experience of male factor infertility: 51% male factor alone; 15% both male and female factor infertility; and 19% unexplained infertility or no diagnosis. Participants had, on average, been trying to conceive for five years.
The majority of respondents (93%) stated their well-being had been impacted by fertility issues. Men reported fertility issues to be emasculating, distressing and isolating, harming their self-identity, and causing stress, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.
Fertility issues had a deep impact on intimate partner relationships and a couple’s sex life, as well as family and friends, especially if others had children.
Men often felt excluded and marginalised during fertility treatment, with some respondents reporting a lack of sensitivity from healthcare professionals, while men also felt that the majority of support before, during and after treatment was aimed at women.
Susan Seenan, chief executive 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.”
For more information on National Fertility Awareness Week visit www.nfaw.org.uk