Rick and Gina had tried for a year to start a family. When Gina did not get pregnant, they assumed she was infertile. So when Gina’s doctor said Rick was just as likely to be infertile as Gina was, they were surprised.
He explained that for about one-third of the 2.1 million American couples who have problems with fertility, “male factors” are the cause. For another third, a combination of male and female factors is the cause. To choose the proper treatment, it was important that both Rick and Gina be tested.
Until recently, little attention was paid to male infertility. One reason is that women have always been more likely to seek help than men. But the American Society for Reproductive Medicine says the proper approach is to view infertility as a family issue. If you’re having problems conceiving a child, both you and your partner should talk with your doctor. There’s good incentive—for one out of every two couples who seek help, treatment results in a healthy pregnancy.
Men can be infertile in several ways. Their semen may not contain sperm. Or it may not have enough healthy sperm to ensure one reaches an egg. Sometimes surgery or illness can interfere with ejaculation. Infertility can come from something as simple as wearing underwear that’s too tight or spending time in a hot tub (heat kills sperm). Or the cause could be more complex, such as genetic factors or diseases such as mumps or sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that damage a man’s reproductive system. Your lifestyle can affect fertility. Drugs such as nicotine, alcohol, marijuana or certain medicines affect both how much sperm you produce and its quality.
To check for male infertility, the doctor will take a medical history. The purpose is to identify health issues that could be a problem. The doctor will then ask for a semen sample. The lab will examine your semen to see how much sperm is present. The lab will also check the shape of the sperm, the way sperm move and its chemical makeup. Your doctor may ask for other tests. One, for example, checks how the sperm reacts in your wife’s system.
After the tests, the doctor may suggest lifestyle changes to improve your chance of conceiving. Sometimes surgery can correct problems with the male system. Or your doctor may refer you and your wife to a fertility specialist who will help you explore other options.