“Male fertility can be incorrectly tied to virility, so men are often hesitant to address it,” says Dr. Timothy Rowe, associate professor in the REI division at the University of British Columbia. “It’s important for men to realize that it’s not about you. It’s about the sperm. Don’t delay. Go see your doctor and get it checked. These days there is more understanding and a growing awareness that there’s a lot more that can be done.”

In fact, 99 per cent of male factor infertility cases can be treated. Male factor tests are also relatively simple and inexpensive when compared to the array of tests that women face if female factor is the root of the difficulty conceiving.

“Male fertility can be incorrectly tied to virility, so men are often hesitant to address it."

Treating male fertility

Male-factor infertility causes include medical conditions such as: varicocele – swelling of veins in the testicle; infection – including sexually transmitted diseases; and retrograde ejaculation – when semen is redirected to the bladder. Other causes include genetic predisposition, cancer treatment, obesity and injury to the testicles.

Risk Factors

Lifestyle factors can come into play for male factor infertility. Temperature can be an issue, so hot tubs should be avoided if you’re trying to conceive. Smoking lowers a man’s fertility by as much as 30 per cent. Long distance trucking can be a risk factor for some; too much time spent in close proximity to a laptop or a warm engine can raise the temperature of the testicles and impact sperm.

Alternatives and funding

“The standard of care is IVF (in vitro fertilization) and if there is male factor you add ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection),”explains Dr. Rowe. “The problem is the treatment options are determined by what you can afford.”

IVF can cost as much as $10,000. Quebec is the only province that funds IVF, which is tied to a single embryo transfer policy to reduce multiple births. Many couples do not have $10,000 to spend on treatment, so other less effective fertility treatments are then prescribed when a couple cannot afford to do IVF. Couples without access to IVF often spend longer trying to conceive and have a lengthier journey through the health care system.

One Vancouver man resorted to crowdsourcing to get the money necessary for one round of IVF. Nick Beaulieu was diagnosed with a low sperm count due to a tumor on his pituitary gland. Beaulieu has been speaking out about the lack of awareness around male factor infertility.

“Don’t feel embarrassed,” he says. “You’re not alone, and it’s not your fault. You can find a solution.”

Dr. Rowe explains that the following requirements must be in place for a man to be fertile: Sperm must be produced, and carried into the semen. Sperm quantity must be adequate. Shape and motility – the ability to move – must be normal.

He notes that it’s important for partners to approach infertility as a topic in a non-confrontational manner.

By: Paula Schuck