The Male Factor in Fertility


We live in an incredible time for medicine. Recent advancements have allowed women of advanced maternal age to have babies, uterine transplants have been successfully performed on women who were born without them, and improvements in cryopreservation have led to more successful pregnancies after eggs and embryos have been frozen. You would think that we pretty much have infertility conquered. Surprisingly, that isn’t the case. A lot of it may have to do with men.

Despite years of research showing that nearly 60 percent of couples struggling to conceive discover that male infertility is a contributing factor, fertility specialists still places its focus on women – from evaluation to treatment plans. Male infertility as a factor is considered, but often secondary in thought. To further compound matters, many men aren’t even aware of health conditions and lifestyle choices that could be contributing to their infertility. In a recent study of over 700 Canadian men aged 18-50 years old, it was discovered that men couldn’t correctly identify more than half of the health issues that can lead to male infertility and were unaware of some essential sperm facts.

Think you know everything about male fertility? Check out these five common medical causes of infertility in men:

  • Varicocele – This is a condition where the veins that allow the testicles to drain become  abnormally swollen. While it is still unknown exactly how varicoceles cause infertility and reduce sperm quality, based on the best available data, professionals such as Dr. Parviz Kavoussi suspect that it may be partially due to irregular testicular temperature. Fortunately, varicoceles have a high rate of successful treatment and patients often see improvement in their sperm function and quantity after this issue has been addressed.
  • Hormone imbalance – Male infertility is not always caused by issues stemming from the testicles themselves. When other hormonal systems such as the pituitary gland or hypothalamus don’t function properly, the imbalance in hormones can lead to infertility as well as many other health problems.
  • Ejaculation problems – Regardless of what most of us learned in sex ed, ejaculation doesn’t always result in sperm leaving the body from the tip of the penis. Several health issues can lead to a condition called retrograde ejaculation, in which semen goes into the bladder instead of leaving the body after orgasm. This can be caused by injuries to the spinal cord, surgery of the urethra, prostate, or bladder, diabetes, and some medications. Additionally, in as many as 1% of men, no sperm is present in the semen and 15% of men that seek infertility help have no sperm in the semen with various causes for this.
  • Infections – In addition to interfering with sperm health and production, infections can also create scar tissue that prevents sperm from leaving the body. Some common causes of infection are: inflammation of the testicles or epididymis, and certain STDs like HIV and gonorrhea. While it is possible for permanent damage to occur, doctors are generally successful when they attempt to retrieve sperm.
  • Anti-sperm antibodies – Although the male body is designed to protect its sperm, from its immune system, some men create anti-bodies that attempt to destroy sperm as sperm are not recognized as “self”.

In addition to health related male infertility, environmental factors and food choice can also impact a man’s fertility. For more information check out the content below:

BPA Tied to Decline in Male Fertility

Fast Food is Not Good for Men’s Fertility

Processed Meat Impact on Male Infertility