Without a doubt, there is an emotional impact of male infertility. This often carries an even larger social stigma than female infertility does. For men facing fertility problems, perhaps the greatest challenge is simply opening up and talking about the experience. Our society does a great job of making men feel as though showing emotion is “unmanly” and, therefore, not acceptable.
Infertility in women is hard and still not spoken about as openly as it should be. However, women are expected to feel and express their emotions. Men are not. If we can address the stigma and help men and their partners learn to communicate in a healthy way about male infertility, we can help break down the barriers men face, so they can get the support they need.
How common is male infertility?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), “in about 35% of couples with infertility, a male factor is identified along with a female factor. In about 8% of couples with infertility, a male factor is the only identifiable cause.” You can learn more about male fertility statistics here.
Let’s talk about the emotional impact of male infertility
With male infertility being so common, why is it that men still feel uncomfortable addressing the emotional impact caused by it? Let’s take a closer look.
Men feel emasculated and embarrassed about their infertility
Most men in our society are taught to “be a man” in any number of circumstances. One of these life events that seemingly defines “manhood” is being able to get their partner pregnant. Infertility can take that away, leaving men feeling emasculated. In other words, if they can’t perform and produce results in the way society expects them to, it can feel as though they’ve failed.
Since this belief system is still so widely held (despite being antiquated), when men do struggle with infertility, many don’t want to talk about it because of the fear of being judged and embarrassed. Of course, this fails to take into account the deeply complex and nuanced emotions of being human — emotions are simply not gendered.
Just as women who struggle with infertility may feel as though they are not adequately fulfilling their biological duty as women, men, too, can face this emotional impact of infertility.
Male infertility is stressful
In one study on the social, marital, and sexual impact of a man’s perceived fertility diagnosis, men reported feeling as though their wives’ friends wouldn’t stop staring or looking at them strangely. The study concluded “male partners in couples who perceive isolated male factor infertility have a lower sexual and personal quality of life compared with male partners of couples without perceived male factor infertility.”
Can you imagine how stressful it would be to feel judged by other people due to your inability to get pregnant? Probably. It’s important to know that men can feel that same stress when the fertility issue is a male factor.
How to deal with infertility stress
Not only is not being able to get their partner pregnant stressful, that stress can compound and hurt their relationship. It’s somewhat of a catch-22. Not feeling as though they can talk about the emotional impact of male infertility can stress men out. Talking about it can also stress them out. Either way, more stress is put on the relationship and the situation. Thankfully, there are a couple powerful things men can do to help navigate the stress of male infertility and the emotions that come with it:
- Strike a balance between communication and research
For many women, support groups, counseling, and blogs are a huge help when it comes to dealing with the emotions surrounding infertility. However, some men may not want to talk it out as often as their partners do. Feeling forced into endless conversations about infertility and their emotions can cause even more problems. Women can support their male partners by encouraging them to research more about infertility — what causes it, how common it is, and what they can do to improve it.Actionable items like this can help men feel like they have some level of control over what they experience and make them more open to communicating.
- Find a support group for men with infertility
Men facing infertility may find comfort in the experiences of their peers. While some men are uncomfortable discussing their emotions, they are more likely to do so in a place where they feel safe and understood. Support groups allow men experiencing fertility problems to come together and share their stories with each other, knowing that they are all going through the same things.
It’s important to understand the psychological impact that infertility has on men even if they aren’t as vocal about their issues as women may be. Understanding these emotions is the first step to dealing with them. Men need support to help address the emotional impact of male infertility.