While women across the US are weighing their reproductive health care options in anticipation of a possible repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, a new study out of Canada reveals that men, on the other hand, are a lot less concerned about their ability to have children. According to research published in the November issue of Human Reproduction, guys are pretty clueless about what factors contribute to male infertility.
Researchers recruited 701 male participants between the ages of 18 and 50 to fill out a web-based survey, identifying risk factors and health issues associated with male infertility. Two open-ended questions simply asked respondents to list what they thought might impact a man's ability to have children. Two close-ended questions offered a list of factors and issues and asked men to rate if an item was "definitely," "probably," or "definitely not" a factor. The survey also gathered some supplementary data, including age, ethnicity, education, and employment.
After tallying the results, researchers discovered that while almost 86 percent of participants thought they were knowledgeable about their reproductive health, they were actually only able to identify 51 percent of the risk factors and 45 percent of the health issues associated with male infertility.
"Men were most aware of the modifiable risk factors for infertility (e.g. sexually transmitted infections, smoking cigarettes), relative to their knowledge of fixed risk factors (e.g. delayed puberty, size of testicles) and the attendant health issues (e.g. cardiovascular disease, diabetes)," the study's authors write. "The overall level of fertility knowledge did not vary by most demographic characteristics (e.g. age, education, employment, income), though men from ethnic minority groups displayed moderately greater awareness."
Some of the factors and issues that received the lowest number of correct responses were overuse of electronic devices, such as cellphones or computers (26 percent), size of testicles (19 percent) and diabetes (33.8 percent).
Additionally, almost 60 percent of participants expressed a desire to learn more about male fertility, which means almost half of the sample were content with leaving their childbearing futures up to chance.
Reproduction is seen by our society as a women's issue
Phyllis Zelkowitz, a psychiatry professor at McGill University in Montreal, was the lead researcher on the study. She says the results weren't surprising. "Childbearing, and problems related to it, are often seen as 'women's issues,'" she tells Broadly, "even though most men want to have children some day."
She says one of the goals of this study, the first of its kind to focus on men's knowledge of fertility, was to shine a spotlight on men's reproductive health. "Reproduction is seen by our society as a women's issue. The focus is often on the woman's 'biological clock,' and of course women are the ones who become pregnant and give birth. Even when the cause of infertility is due to male factors like sperm quality and quantity, the treatment is usually on the woman's body." She cites in vitro fertilization, which stimulates a woman's ovaries to produce more eggs, as an example.
According to background information included in the study, male factors such as low sperm count and abnormal sperm morphology play a role in almost half of the diagnosed cases of infertility. That's why, Zelkowitz says, it's important for young men to be aware of lifestyle factors that may have an impact on their infertility. "Just as young men are being encouraged to check their testicles for signs of testicular cancer, there are things young men can do to try to prevent fertility problems in the future. Because there is stigma associated with infertility, we need to open up the conversation about this issue."