Male fertility rates have been steadily declining, and a new study suggests that men’s ignorance of infertility risk factors may be a major reason.
While up to half of infertility in couples is due to male infertility, most men have a limited awareness of risk factors that contribute to the inability to conceive naturally, the study found.
The findings, published in the November issue of the journal Human Reproduction, showed that men could identify only about half of the potential risks and health conditions that could significantly affect their sperm count and fertility.
The researchers surveyed more than 700 Canadian men aged 18 to 50 (with an average age of 34), who represented a range of ethnic backgrounds, income and education, and asked them to identify factors associated with male infertility.
Most men were able to identify well-known risk factors such as cancer, smoking, and steroid use, the study found. However, significantly fewer were aware that things like obesity, frequent bicycling, and using portable computers on their lap also were risk factors.
“Childbearing, and problems related to it, are often seen as ‘women’s issues,’ even though most men want to have children some day,” study co-author Dr. Phyllis Zelkowitz, a professor and researcher of psychiatry at McGill University and the Jewish General Hospital, told The Huffington Post. “Also, men tend to ask fewer questions about their health when they go to the doctor.”
The men surveyed did seem to care about their reproductive health. Roughly a third of the participants said they were concerned about their fertility, and nearly 60 percent said they wanted to learn more about the subject.
Another potential factor in men’s lack of knowledge is the fact that most research and communication around the subject of fertility is geared toward women, and there is an overwhelmingly gendered tone of most media discussions.
A large amount of research has shed light on factors that affect a woman’s fertility, including age, preexisting health conditions, lifestyle factors such as stress and alcohol consumption, and hormone levels.
Male fertility, on the other hand, is grossly under-researched. Consequently, less information about infertility in men (including the often-ignored male biological clock) is available.
The new study points to the need for greater information and awareness.
“Knowledge about reproductive health reduces the stigma associated with infertility, and empowers people to take charge of their health,” Zelkowitz said. “If men are more aware of lifestyle factors associated with infertility, they can take actions to promote their reproductive health and their overall health.”