Infertility hits men hard – affecting their mental health, self-esteem, relationships, sex life, masculinity, career and finances; its treatment is one-sided and insensitive, and emotional support is scarce, according to the first qualitative survey of men’s experiences of fertility problems.
What men would like to see now is a shift from infertility being seen as a ‘women’s issue’ within society and vastly improved support for men, in particular online.
Survey, conducted by national charity Fertility Network UK and researchers at Leeds Beckett University, released recently.
The majority of respondents had direct experience of male factor infertility: 51 per cent male factor alone; 15 per cent both male and female factor infertility; and 19 per cent 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.
Men noted that the majority of support before, during and after treatment is aimed at women.
Men’s career prospects and finances suffered too.
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.’
‘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’, said Dr. Esmee Hanna, lead researcher.
Prof. Brendan Gough, co-researcher, said: ‘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.’