The Secret World of Male Infertility

In our confessional culture there is one thing that is rarely spoken about – male infertility.

Almost 8 million couples in America alone suffer from infertility. In an estimated third of all infertile couples the problem will lie with the man, but if you surf the net and visit forums you’d be forgiven for thinking that infertility was a female only medical condition. Thousands of women are writing about the problems but almost no men. Fertility is so tied up with our ideas of masculinity and virility that most men refuse to talk about infertility for the shame and embarrassment it will engender.

Male infertility is one of the last great taboos. And I can understand why. When my wife and I were struggling to make a baby I also found it hard to vocalize my feelings. My failure at fatherhood ate away at my very being and made me feel less of a man. Friends later told me that my body was physically hunched from the emotional weight of my baby wait. I didn’t want to talk about it to anyone and certainly not mates. I would walk past children playing in the park and I’d feel my heart breaking into tiny pieces. Consumed by Buggaboo envy I’d see couples pushing their baby strollers and want to punch them in the face. I would oscillate wildly between anger and depression. After learning a friend of ours was pregnant I didn’t leave my bedroom for two days.

Last month a close friend of ours announced that they were about to have a baby. Later that night over a few glasses of wine the husband admitted they had gone through IVF 5 times. And furthermore his sperm was at fault. Only now that a baby was on the way did he feel he could open up about their ordeal. During the whole traumatic journey he had spoken to no one. He said he felt too full of shame and guilt.
I know how he felt. I am ashamed to admit that when my wife and I both had our fertility tests I sat in the doctor’s room waiting for the results silently praying that my sperm would not be judged to be ineffective and that instead it would be my wife’s eggs at fault.

I know of another couple where the wife told everyone the problems was with her eggs, when in fact it was her husband’s low sperm count, to shield him from the embarrassment. It’s telling that while female celebrities have spoken openly about their struggles to conceive I can’t think of one male celebrity that has admitted to a low sperm count. Like Chlamydia, men with infertility problems are everywhere. Lost and isolated blokes who would rather chew off their own arms than discuss the number, motility and quality of their sperm.

One of the consequences of this male silence is that, despite men and women being equally responsible, infertility is still seen primarily as a woman’s problem and most of the research and resources is focused on them.

I urge men to speak out and be open about their infertility struggles. I realise now that there is no shame associated with it. Being a father and being man is not defined by the potency of our white stuff.
I hope my novel will give more men the strength to speak out. And also for women going through IVF to realise that despite their partner’s outward appearance of strength and detachment, there is a man next to them who is just as emotionally invested as they are.



I am at work, when suddenly I come over all strange. I feel dizzy. The room starts to spin. My guts ache and I have to grip the desk to compose myself. Sadness has run headfirst into my stomach. It isn’t the depth of the story I am editing, about a little girl who loses her pet frog, that brings tears to my eyes, it’s the thoughts that rush up from my subconscious. Will I ever watch this show with a child of my own? Will I ever actually be a dad?

I rush to the Gents, sit on the pan and let the tears come.

Great big watery tears. Buckets of them.

I never cry. I can’t even remember the last time I cried.

I cry for me. I cry for Nyla. I cry for us. I cry for my useless sperm. And then I start crying because I am crying. I am a man with dodgy sperm and I cry.

What kind of man am I? I bet my dad wouldn’t cry. I am not a man at all.

Once I start I can’t stop.  At first I try to hold it in. But I think its best to just let it all flow. Holding it in will only make it worse, like diarrhea, it’s best to just let it all come out. And anyway no one can see me.

I don’t just cry tears, I physically sob. It is embarrassing. I hope to God no one can hear me.

Then after what must have been a good ten minutes, it stops. I wipe away my tears. I feel drained. But in a strange way I feel good. Cleansed.

For a long time I just I sit pondering my existence. If you can’t father a baby what is life for?

It’s a big question and not best suited for a men’s toilet cubicle on the third floor of a seventies office block in West London. So I look around me and wonder instead what compels men to draw knobs on lavatory walls.

Male Infertility Blues

I am not a man like other men. I am infertile.  All I can think about is my semen lost at sea.

I don’t want to go to work. I don’t know if I have the strength to battle the commute. I don’t have a cold but I feel worse than if I had the worst possible man flu. I have “not-fertile enough-to-be-a-man” flu. I wish I could phone work and announce that I had picked up a bad dose of infertility and that there was no way I would be able to do my job today. But I look fine. There are no immediate clues to infertility. From the outside, you can’t see the damage within. Like the banks in the financial meltdown, you have no idea how badly things aren’t working the way they are meant to.

Fear of Sex

It’s sex night. I’m going to get some hot action. It’s sex night and my woman is at home ready and waiting. It’s sex night and I’m not looking forward to it one little bit. 

I am dreading it. I’ve got a horrible tense knot in my stomach. I know what I’ve got to do and I am worried. The pressure to perform is immense. 

Sex is not fun anymore. It’s serious. 

I’ve always defined my masculinity in terms of sex. 

Always needed it. 

Sometimes got it. 

Always enjoyed it. 

Until now. Not now that we are trying to make a baby. Not now that I am trying to become a dad.