“I was shocked. I was devastated. I was depressed. I felt like less of a man.”
Many men faced with an infertility diagnosis often feel disbelief, despair and even shame, emotions more and more research shows may be just as intense as their female partners’, contrary to popular belief. For decades, studies on emotional responses to infertility suggested women suffer much more than men.
But in reality, the emotional impact seems to be just about equal. It’s no surprise, given one out of every three infertility cases is due to the man alone.
Understanding what’s behind your partner’s change in mood and behavior, and arming yourself with strategies to cope, are crucial. Men need to know their emotional well-being is a priority too. Taking action will help your own emotional state and can also strengthen your bond with your partner during treatment – and beyond. What’s more, research shows that men who acknowledge infertility and talk openly about their feelings show improved sperm counts and may even be more successful at impregnating their partners.
Many men say not being able to father a child feels like failing at one’s most fundamental purpose – reproducing. And unlike female infertility – understood by most as a medical issue – male infertility is often incorrectly seen as a sexual problem, making admitting the diagnosis even more difficult. A recent Danish study of 210 men undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) – when collected sperm is injected into a partner’s eggs – found that nearly 40% of participants linked reduced sperm quality to being less masculine. Infertility makes many males feel less potent, less virile.
Some men won’t believe their initial diagnosis and will insist on repeating infertility tests multiple times. And even when faced with overwhelming evidence, there are those who will never be able to admit it. Some couples will pretend their inability to conceive is because of the woman and not the man, adding stress during an already trying time. Couples’ physical relationship can suffer as well when a man questions his masculinity; he may worry so much about his ability to perform that he finds himself unable to achieve or maintain an erection.
There are steps that you both can take to help though. Counseling – couples or group therapy sessions for men only – is an excellent outlet for men to express and understand the emotions surrounding their diagnosis. Therapists that are especially sensitive to men’s’ needs can be particularly helpful – ones that offer flexible appointment times and refer to group sessions as “information seminars” rather than “group therapy.”
Online support groups or chat boards can also be therapeutic. The anonymity of online feels safe, one can post at all hours and the size of the support network isn’t constrained by location, allowing participants to draw on a wide array of perspectives. It can also help to take a step back and regularly remind yourselves why you’re pursuing treatment – you love each other and want to raise a child together. Try to focus on strengthening your connection as a couple, on romance and on nurturing each other’s needs.
http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/mens_health/male_factor_infertility_85,P01484/ [It’s no surprise, given one out of every three infertility cases is due to the man alone.]
Keylor, Rhita and Roberta Apfel. “Male Infertility: Integrating an Old Psychoanalytic Story with the Research Literature.” Studies in Gender and Sexuality 1940-9206. (2010): 60-77. Print.[Research shows that men who acknowledge infertility and talk about their feelings show improved sperm count and may even be more successful at impregnating their partners.]
Mikkelsen et al., 2012. Psychological aspects of male infertility in a Scandinavian ICSI population – a prospective questionnaire study.
[A recent Danish study of 210 men undergoing intracytoplasmic sperm injection – when collected sperm is injected into a partner’s eggs – found that nearly 40% of participants linked reduced sperm quality with being less masculine.]