Feature Archive

Infertility: It's Not My Fault

Why do men have such a hard time accepting a low sperm count?

WebMD Feature

April 3, 2000 (Atlanta) -- A friend of mine, whom I'll call "Tom," found himself in his wife's gynecologist's office, masturbating into a cup. Tom didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Infertility is no laughing matter, but as he found out, a sense of humor helps.

Surprisingly, most male infertility testing is done at gynecological offices. Men are just as likely to be infertile as women (40% of cases are attributed to men, 40% to women, and 20% to both). But women typically seek treatment first. When the cause of the problem doesn?t lie with them, they often have to drag their husbands to the gynecologist.

A million men will visit fertility specialists this year, experts say. And like Tom, many will have a tough time imagining that they could be the cause of their wife's inability to conceive. "Men come in embarrassed, scared, and incredulous," says Larry Lipshultz, M.D., the clinical director of the Laboratory for Male Reproductive Research and Testing in Houston, Texas. "Incredulous that they have a problem, given that they feel so healthy."

Eldon Schriock, M.D., of the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco, agrees. "Denial is common. Men tend to think they've done something harmful to themselves, like playing too much football. It's hard for them to accept that the problem is internal and out of their control."