Men’s Secret Shame: InfertilityFebruary 5, 2019
Bradly Goldman, as a bodybuilder, has always had defined muscles. The managed to remain in shape by a combination of bland proteins, heavyweights and ster*ids.
However, over the past six months, this fitness and nutrition consultant noticed some changes. His physique started to soften. Eventually, he had to buy a shirt a size smaller, since the ones he had hung loosely on him. His wife Brittany noticed those changes as well.
Goldman, now 30 years old, started taking ster*ids at the age of 18, and even though he had heard about them interfering with fertility, he didn’t pay much attention. Ster*ids can stop the body from producing natural testosterone, but like any young man, Goldman was more concerned about not having babies than having them. However, now that he and his wife are trying to have a child, this seems to be a problem. Despite stopping taking stero*ds two years ago, the damage appears to be done.
Last March he got a semen analysis and his sperm number turned out to be zero. He was devastated.
To solve the problem, he started taking fertility dr*gs. At the same time, he was injecting himself with testosterone, even though his doctor recommended him not to do that in order to make the dr*gs more effective. A few months later his sperm count started to rise a bit, but there were some side effects. His s*x drive has withered, he doesn’t have much energy and has only 30 pounds of muscle. In addition, he has fat in places he has never had before, such as his breast tissue. All of this led to depression.
When it comes to social media, he stopped posting shirtless photos and hasn’t publicly explained what was going on. He has about ten thousand people following him but not knowing a thing about him.
Infertility is almost always thought as women’s issue- they are the ones who either get pregnant or not and regardless which partner has a fertility problem they will carry the burden. For example, in vitro fertilization (IVF) requires only a sperm sample from men, but a woman must take synthetic hormones, injections, blood tests, and ultrasounds.
About 50% of cases in which couples cannot conceive are connected with men’s small sperm count. Even though they do get the support, men choose not to talk about it in most cases.
As one typical masculine man, with muscles and tattoos, Goldman doesn’t feel like being infertile fits with the picture of himself.
Reason of Infertility
One of the most common reason of infertility within men is varicocele; veins scrotum tend to become too big and tangle, which results with testicles heating up and losing the sperm function. Luckily, this can be fixed with surgery. Certain medications also affect fertility, as well as other medical issues and obesity. The age is also an important factor since the quality of sperm decreases with time.
Meanwhile, there are also many cases of male infertility that are idiopathic, which means the reason is unknown. Doctors suggested some reasons, such as generic or environmental factors, then diet, alcohol, air pollution, stress, pesticides or compounds in plastic. In 2017, Human Reproduction Update journal published a study in which was established that the sperm count has declined more than 50% in less than 40 years among men living in Western countries.
Dr. James Kashanian, who practices urology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, noticed some changes in people’s attitude towards infertility in the last three years. People used to immediately assume that the woman was the problem, so they would jump to IVF and intrauterine insemination (IUI) in which the sperm is inserted directly into the uterus. Now couples are more informed about the male factor, so they detect the problem faster.
After the man leaves the doctors office with this information, they feel miserable. They feel guilty for being the reason their partner cannot conceive. Also, they feel shame and loneliness.
Esmee Hanna, a male-infertility researcher at De Montfort University in England did a survey about the impact of infertility among men. She concluded that they are bothered about it- 93% of 41 men interviewed said it affected their self-confidence and well being. They felt lonely, anxious and depressed. Some of them even felt suicidal, but only about 40% of them looked for support.
Infertility is private for a lot of women too, but they are more likely to join support groups and discuss the issue. One of the most popular men-only supports groups on Facebook has about 1000 members, which is still a small number since 12% of U.S men ages between 25 and 44 are infertile.
Andy Hansen, a 33-year-old X-ray technologist, is one of the members. In 2015, he found out he had a low sperm count, due to a varicocele. It rose a bit after surgery, but five years after his wife and him still have no children. They had five rounds of IUI and IVF and two miscarriages. He wanted to talk about it with other men, but when he went to an event which the clinic organized, there weren’t any guys, maybe just one or two.
Finally, he found Mens Fertility Support, where man advice each other. He finds it helpful since men usually keep things in.
At first, Goldman didn’t take his wife’s advice to join the group. He didn’t want to share personal information with random people. Finally, he changed his mind when he read a post about a man who talked about suicide due to infertility. It completely broked him, and he related to him a lot.
Phyliss Zelkowitz, director of research in psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital, thinks online groups are helpful because they normalize the experience.
Goldman once posted on the Facebook group, with time he became more open about his experience, with the wish to help other men not feel alone.