Husky-voiced Welsh stand-up comedian Rhod Gilbert, 52, hit the press last week as he raised the profile of (male) infertility. In his recent documentary for the BBC, ‘Stand Up to Infertility’, Rhod filmed himself interviewing fertility experts at The Fertility Show who told him: ‘21st century living is not good for sperm.’
Documenting his own IVF journey with his screenwriter wife Siân Harries, 39, (who suffers from endometriosis), Rhod reveals that he was unpleasantly surprised to discover that he has a low sperm count. ‘Senile swimmers in need of zimmers’, is how he neatly and humorously refers to it. This new documentary comes months after the airing of ‘Me, My Brother and Our Balls’, a BBC documentary last year (featuring the 27-year-old Love Island star Chris Hughes and his 28-year-old brother Ben), which offered an insight into just some of the heartbreak men can experience when faced with male infertility.
In Rhod Gilbert’s new documentary, he openly talks about his sperm and, within the first five minutes of this emotional and somewhat entertaining programme, his opening line (even before an introduction) is, ‘So I’m about to go off to the fertility clinic, to go and give a semen sample’. Not even a moment later, Rhod claims ‘I suffer from a condition called ‘Sh*t jizz’.
Gilbert uses his fine sense of humour to tackle the very sensitive topic of infertility, focussing on the trauma of male infertility, its causes and treatments. Having uncovered issues with his own sperm while trying to conceive with his wife, Sian, Gilbert launches a male infertility campaign in a bid to raise awareness around the topic of male infertility, revealing that, since 1980, sperm counts have dropped by a staggering 60% in the western world.
During the hour-long documentary, he talks to other men in a similar position, such as the poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who describes his own agonies when he discovered he had azoospermia (lack of sperm). Rhod also meets a man whose wife had eight years of fertility treatment before they discovered that he was the one with the fertility issues.
With the UK fertility industry being worth £400 million a year, Gilbert is shocked to discover that around 50% of all fertility issues lie with the man and yet the focus of infertility diagnosis and treatment seems to be aimed at women. So, he is on a mission to address the topic and find out why no-one talks about it.
Putting himself out there and realising how little support is available to men, Rhod started a male Facebook group and not to his surprise, a whopping seven men showed up to talk about their male infertility issues. Realising this topic needs voicing, he has worked with an advertising agency to get the message across, in a bid to get men checking their fertility and being open about it. With some sperm-themed fertility-awareness slogans, he brings this campaign to the streets, and somehow finding himself fronting the launch, complete with banners declaring him the face of infertility. He jokes: ‘This was not what I had in mind when I got into comedy.’ Taking to the streets, he was not approached by many. In fact he was avoided, because people felt embarrassed. So, why in 2021, a century which is openly addressing so many previously taboo issues, is there so much stigma still attached to male infertility?
Radio stations and publications have caught wind of this and, on Radio 2, having interviewed Gilbert, Emma Barnett speaks about her own personal experience of struggling to conceive, having waited 20 years to be diagnosed with endometriosis, declaring to her Instagram followers that she related to much of what he said.
Male infertility is a topic very close to my heart, my husband having azoospermia and being infertile. The support for him five years ago was almost non-existent and he didn’t talk to many people about it. So, are things changing? The TTC (trying conceive community) on Instagram is certainly helping spark this conversation and the likes of Toby Trice Racing and The Man Cave are working relentlessly to raise awareness.
FHH and Male Infertility
In fact just this week we at Fertility Help Hub did an Instagram LIVE with Dr Saab from CRGH fertility clinic on exactly this topic, male infertility causes, diagnosis and treatment options. Watch it back below.
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