Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Men's Fertility Facts

When it comes to infertility, so much information is out there about what women can do. Less is out there for men. The fact remains that, regardless of what some people might have you believe, it takes both a man and a woman to make a baby even if it’s not done in the conventional manner. A sperm is needed to fertilize that egg so it can become a fetus and grow into a baby.

A ‘couple’ is considered to be having fertility problems when they have been actively trying to conceive for more than a year with no success. At this point, one or both of the partners are usually evaluated by a specialist to determine what the difficulties are and given suggestions on how to increase the likelihood of ‘getting pregnant.’


Generally speaking, there are two main reasons for male infertility. First, a man produces too little (or no) sperm. Second, the sperm have difficulties in reaching the egg. If it can’t reach the egg, it can’t fertilize it. As an adjunct to this issue, the sperm may be able to reach the egg, but due to abnormalities in size, shape or composition, the sperm may not be equipped to fertilize the ovum (egg).


Male infertility can have many causes such as illness, physical injury to the scrotum or testes or even a hormonal deficiency affecting testosterone and, as a direct result, sperm production. Other factors that can increase the likelihood of male infertility include:


A man produces less testosterone and sperm as he gets older. His libido declines as he ages. Of course, it’s important to note that some men can become fathers well into their 80s and perhaps beyond. Age is not a sole predictor of infertility but it is something to take into account.


Considered a permanent method of birth control, a vasectomy is an operation in which the sperm is rerouted. It no longer exits via the penis and leaves the body through other means so a man can not get a woman pregnant. There is a reversal procedure for this operation; however, it is not 100% effective.


Similar to varicose veins in the penis, varicocele is an abnormal enlargement of the veins in the scrotum which drains in the testicles. Occurring in about 1 in 6 men who have infertility issues, varicoceles are the most common cause of low sperm count and decreased sperm quality in men. Of course, not all varicoceles affect this process.

Sertoli Cell-Only Syndrome

Genetic in nature, this condition occurs when a man is able to ejaculate but has no sperm presence in that ejaculation. There is nothing physically wrong with the man otherwise, there’s just something in his DNA that has kept him from producing sperm. About 5-10% of US couples are affected by this condition.

Inherited Disorders

Several diseases that are inherited genetically can cause problems with fertility such as:

  • Cystic Fibrosis – patients usually have missing or obstructed vas deferens (these are tubes that carry sperm). In fact, men whose infertility is caused by this missing component have a 60% chance of carrying the gene for Cystic Fibrosis even if they don’t have the disease themselves.
  • Klinefelter Syndrome – these individuals have an extra X chromosome which destroys the lining in the seminiferous tubes, where the sperm are created, during puberty.
  • Polycystic Kidney Disorder – a fairly common genetic condition that causes cysts to form on the kidneys and other organs. This can cause fertility problems if the cysts formulate on the reproductive organs.

Lifestyle Factors

Stress, obesity, smoking, exposure to toxins, drugs, alcohol and so forth can all play a part in fertility problems with men. The number and quality of a man’s sperm can be affected by a man’s overall health and lifestyle. Health problems, medications both prescription and over the counter, treatments including chemotherapy and so forth can also impact fertility negatively.


The best things a man can do to help improve his chances of helping his partner in starting a family are:

  • stop smoking
  • lose weight
  • reduce exposure to chemicals at work and at home
  • exercise in moderation (too much exercise could actually lower your sperm count)
  • take your vitamins (include vitamin C, zinc and Vitamin E)
  • decrease drinking and taking drugs, etc.

Remember – for most couples, infertility is just a temporary problem. There are a variety of things you can do and try to improve the situation. The most important thing is to remain understanding, be kind to each other and keep the lines of communication open.