May 2016

Infertility and Masculinity

Why is there a stigma around infertility and masculinity? Do treatments for infertility challenge this?


Throughout history the masculine sense of self has been founded on virility. An extended glance at the icons of any ancient religion will place even emphasis on the male and female roles in reproduction; the woman as fertile and giving, and the male figure as responsible and providing. Such archetypal gender roles are often affirmed without much subtlety in reference to the sexual organs, for example the enlarged penises of Shinto and Hindu imagery. With such a reinstated role across time in societies and religions it is no shock to find that the idea of the male being able to reproduce is stigmatised even today, and that it is not uncommon to find that infertility is an issue often avoided or spoken of in hushed voices amongst men. Why should this be so?



Since we inherited from religion the idea that the male and female have specific roles to play and that the family is the most precious of institutions it has become and remains a given in society that individuals are able to reproduce without issue. This however is far from the truth and 1 in 3 issues with reproduction begin with the male reproductive organs. Low sperm count is one of the most accounted for reasons for male infertility along with a whole host of issues regarding the sperm and testicles including; slow movement of sperm, sperm that is too dense and more. Whilst these problems are hard to identity as it is, doctors even admit that male infertility has mysterious beginnings in the genetic makeup of an individual, making it in some cases almost impossible to accurately explain.

It would be hoped that the biological nature of male infertility could be of some comfort for those who may feel that their sense of self is diminished by the inability to perform a supposedly given action. If a doctor’s note is unable to cure male society’s insecurities, however, perhaps the fact that infertility itself has become less and less an issue will do the job. The number of procedures available in assisted reproduction are outnumbering the reasons for couples to resign to biological infertility issues as attending IVF clinics abroad or at home becomes far more common. IVF treatments revolve around in-vitro fertilisation; fertilisation that takes place outside of the body, increasing success chances by 40% or more depending on the clients. Procedures do not isolate the male or female member, and often involve trips abroad to places like Prague, Czech Republic that supply cheaper IVF than normally found in the west.



Can we still consider masculinity under threat from infertility when infertility itself is being addressed? Arguably the attention that conception has received in the medical community has obscured the issue of masculinity, widening the focus to the couple and posing the issue as something that does not need to be gender specific.