Food & Nutrition

Reducing the Shame Around Male Infertility

Eloise Edington  |   1 Feb 2022


Imagine wanting to improve your physical health but feeling ashamed to seek out ways to do so.  Consider discovering that a balanced diet and regular exercise are what’s needed but feeling like buying fruit, vegetables and a gym membership deems you “unhealthy”.  Kind of strange, right?

Until not too long ago, advocating for our mental health was steeped in stigma.  And although we’re still a long way off from removing all barriers to achieving good mental health, in many circles, there’s an open dialogue around the importance of looking after our mental health.  No longer do we equate taking some Me Time, switching off from emails over the weekend and speaking to a counsellor or therapist as indicative of someone who is “mentally ill”.

But understanding male fertility and what men can do to increase chances of conception are still shrouded in shame and secrecy.  For many men, experiencing reproductive problems is associated with feelings of “unmanliness”.

At The Ribbon Box, we know that feeling ashamed to acknowledge fertility complications can be a huge barrier for men to find and follow advice on boosting male fertility.  So why are male infertility, stigma and stereotypes muddled together?  How can we unravel them and how will this help men when trying for a baby?

With Fairhaven Health (see their profile here), we take a closer look at the stereotypes harming men’s fertility, associated shame and how men can improve their fertility when TTC.  Read on to learn more and receive an exclusive discount on the entire Fairhaven Health website, including their range of fertility supplements to support male reproductive health.

Written by Holly Pigache

reduce-shame-male-infertility

Where has the stigma around male infertility come from?

It’s a common misconception that infertility is a woman’s issue yet approximately 30% of fertility issues experienced by heterosexual couples are due to male factor infertility.  (Around 30% of problems are a result of female fertility factors whilst about 30-40% of fertility complications heterosexual couples face are unknown.)

One reason for this misattribution of fertility problems could be the stigma surrounding male (in)fertility.  (Not convinced there’s stigma around male infertility?  We asked our Instagram community (follow us here) and 84% said they believe men’s fertility is stigmatised.)

When it comes to men’s fecundity, stigma often results from stereotypes of what it means to be male, masculine, A Man.  In fact, studies have shown that men can confuse infertility with masculinity and sexual potency, leading to a sense of personal inadequacy.

Moreover, in modern Western societies, stereotypes of masculinity have no place for male vulnerability and encourage men to be independent, with little need for the support of others.  So it’s no surprise men can be reluctant to acknowledge fertility complications and then seek out reproductive help.

Is it really a problem?

When we don’t talk about a problem, it’s easy to feel we’re the only one in the situation.  In turn, this exacerbates feelings of shame and isolation.  A study investigating the impact of infertility on American men found infertile men had “poorer personal quality of life”.

Previously it was thought that men aren’t as concerned as women about reproducing or as affected by fertility problems – this has since been found to not be the case.  In 2012, one study analysed 73 research papers that looked into men and women’s reproductive desires and treatment for men with reproductive difficulties.  It reported that men with male factor infertility experienced more “negative emotional responses”, such as a sense of loss, associated stigma and impaired self-esteem than men whose female partners were infertile (or who were in couples with unexplained infertility).

It seems men are very much affected by infertility to the extent their sense of self is harmed.  Clearly, something needs to be done.

How can men improve their fertility?

Little good comes from avoiding conception support and in the absence of an underlying health condition, there is so much a man can do to boost his fertility.  Taking a fertility supplement can improve sperm health and in clinical trials, Fairhaven Health’s FH PRO Men fertility supplement has been shown to improve sperm count, motility and morphology after being taken for 3 months.  Three months’ use also resulted in a significant improvement in DNA fragmentation and oxidation-reduction potential (study details available here).  Taking a specialised fertility supplement certainly improves sperm health.

How does Fairhaven Health’s FH PRO for Men improve fertility?

This comprehensive multivitamin makes up for missed nutrients in a man’s diet.  Targeted ingredients of the highest quality such as L-carnitine tartrate, L-arginine, CoQ10, zinc and lycopene also enhance male fertility providing a 2-in-1 approach to achieving fertility goals.

Is Fairhaven Health’s FH PRO for Men suitable for me?

Vegetarian and herb-free, Fairhaven Health’s FH PRO for Men is designed for any fertility scenario.  For the best results, it’s recommended that FH PRO supplements are taken 3 to 6 months before TTC.

FH PRO for Men’s patented fertility supplements includes over 25 key ingredients to support sperm health, for example:

  • L-carnitine tartrate
  • L-arginine
  • Zinc
  • Selenium
  • Antioxidants such as Vitamins C and E, beta carotene, lycopene and CoQ10

US readers can receive an exclusive 15% off Fairhaven Health’s entire website when using code TRB15 at checkout.  (N.B excludes the OvaCue Wireless Fertility Monitor.)

We asked our FHH community: Why do you think there is a stigma surrounding male (in)fertility?

  • “Because of toxic masculinity paired with little education in schools.” – Hayley
  • “It’s not discussed, it’s not getting treated.  Women are getting treated for men’s problems.” – Reena*
  • “Because they feel less of a man and it’s simply not the norm for men to talk about their fertility, so they just don’t.  Men typically don’t seek help online as women do.  If they did, I think men would start opening up a bit more.” – Lou
  • “Because it’s never spoken about.” – Anna*
  • “Because of our patriarchal society and how we associate fertility with manliness.” – Jackie
  • “Because no one talks about it.” – Leslie
  • “Stereotypes and societal expectations.” – Martha*
  • “It’s attached to masculinity.  My partner and I are both infertile but my mother in law blames just me.” – Sian*
  • “Toxic masculinity.  Men are brought up to think amazing sperm = masculinity.” – Pippa
  • “Damaged ego, men feel they’ve failed their partners.” – Mia*

Why is it a problem?

  • “It’s always seen as the woman’s fault so no one even considers it could be [due to] male factors.” – Haley
  • “My husband’s work said he couldn’t attend my appointments, then they got a shock when he said he was infertile!” – Ellen
  • “My husband has male factor and he finds it incredibly difficult to talk with others.” – Rosie*

(*Names have been changed)

How can we reduce the stigma of male infertility?

Since we launched The Ribbon Box in 2019, we’ve noticed the conversation about male fertility has become louder.  There’s more awareness and discussion of the global decline in sperm quality, how this impacts TTC efforts and what men can do to boost fertility and improve chances of conception.

There’s no magic-wand solution to reduce the stigma surrounding male fertility.  It’s a process that takes time and is only achieved through open and informative conversations.  However, we can start by breaking down the stereotype that a man’s fertility and society’s perception of masculinity are interlinked.  Conflating “masculinity” and male fertility is harming men’s mental health – something our society is working hard to destigmatise.

Ultimately, an individual or couple’s fertility journey is personal and just as men would benefit from a rethink of what it means to be “a man”, sharing something you feel is private might not be right for you.  Join the conversation around male fertility if you wish – we’ll be glad to have you – but taking a targeted fertility supplement is a small step to making big improvements in male fertility.  If you prefer, you can keep the fact you’re taking a male multivitamin for conception private.  The choice is yours.

US readers can visit Fairhaven Health’s website for 15% off male fertility supplements like FH PRO for Men when using code TRB15 at checkout.

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