When a couple has difficulty conceiving, it is just as likely to be a male problem as a female one, yet infertility is all too often seen as a woman’s issue. Right from the very start of fertility investigations when the initial referral is usually to a gynaecologist, the focus is on the female.
Of course, men may want to be fathers in just the same way that women may want to be mothers, but societal pressure means they often feel a need to be the strong one to support a female partner through fertility tests and treatment. They can end up suppressing their own emotions in the process.
We know that men don’t always find it easy to talk about fertility, and a survey for the charity Fertility Network UK in 2015 found that half of all men who responded did not feel able to discuss fertility concerns with their partners, let alone anyone else. That doesn’t mean they are not affected by their situation as 40% of the male respondents said that their fertility problems had impacted on their mental health.
Support services have traditionally focused on women’s needs, and men tend to be outnumbered in fertility support groups and online networks. Indeed, those who post online often report that they get responses from women rather than from other men. Despite this, research looking at older men who are involuntarily childless suggests that they may actually experience a higher degree of depression and isolation than women in the same situation.
Going forwards, we need to get the message across that fertility isn’t just a women’s problem, and to ensure that men who face fertility problems are offered more advice and support in a way that meets their needs.