Paul Rodriguez had been with his wife for 13 years before he ever felt his marriage was seriously in danger. After a few months of trying to conceive unsuccessfully, a sperm analysis in January 2016 revealed a possible reason: Rodriguez had a low sperm count. All of a sudden, new fears about the strength of their relationship began to settle into his mind.
“What if I can’t have kids? What if I can’t provide my wife with a child? Would this actually cause our relationship to end?” said Rodriguez, a 31-year-old resident of Los Angeles, California. “It was the first time I felt there was a threat to our relationship.”
Rodriguez did what most men are advised by their doctors to do after a low sperm count diagnosis: he started taking vitamins and exercising to see if he could increase his numbers on his own. But by April it was clear that they needed more aggressive treatment.
In the meantime, he reached out to family and friends about his medical diagnosis in an effort to soothe his fears. His family offered their support but also didn’t know how to react to the news. The male friends he spoke to offered quick condolences but tried to change the subject.
“It’s so rare that it can ever be a conversation; It’s more like, you just vent for a little while, and then they’re like, ‘There, there.’” he said. “And then they want to get out of that conversation as quickly as possible.”
Rodriguez’s situation — and the lack of emotional support he encountered ― is very common for men diagnosed with infertility, explained Susan Klock, a psychologist at the Northwestern Fertility and Reproductive Medicine Practice.
“People don’t talk about male infertility as much because of its association with male sexuality, male virility [and] being a real man,” she said, “The other part of it is that men in general tend to not talk about a lot of things they’re dealing with, maybe as much as women talk about their issues.”
Infertility affects about one in eight couples in the U.S. About one-third of the issues have to do with male reproductive issues, another third with female reproductive issues and the remainder either a combination of both or unknown reasons.
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