Psycho-social responses to deal with male infertility

Infertility is often connoted as woman’s issue and it is them who bear the brunt of not bearing a child. But, according to a recent report by the WHO, of all infertility cases in India approximately 50% is due to “male factor” infertility, owing to the reproductive anomalies in the male. The data sourced from Indian Journal of Medical specialities says one out of four couples in India are facing infertility and among couples affected by infertility, 40-50% is contributed by male factor infertility.

The response in men due to male-factor infertility can be experienced in the form of;

  •  Emotional and psychological response:
  • Typical emotional reaction of men include denial, disbelief, self-doubts, feelings of personal failure.
  • Feeling of guilt, as they think they are responsible of not having an offspring.
  • Low self-esteem; though baseless, men often equate their manliness with their ability to impregnate their wives.
  • Anger which may change to other less comfortable emotions including depression/mood disorders/grief, etc.
  • Social response:
  • Avoiding relatives and friends who have children of their own.
  • They may also experience stigma, sense of loss, and diminished self-esteem as they compare themselves with their peers and family members. 
  • Isolating themselves from friends and family as they feel a sense of loss of identity and feelings of defectiveness and incompetence.
  • They fear to become the target of merciless mockery and insults in the society.

(Male infertility factor has such a social stigma and a culture of secrecy that in developing countries like India, women sometimes even take the blame for the couple’s struggles.)

  • Marital/sexual response:
  • The worry about his ability to function as a “man” can rob him of a desire for sex.
  • Marital discord often develops, especially when they are under pressure to have timed sex or they need to make timely medical decisions.
  • Treatment may remove the privacy of sex because diagnostic procedures can require “sex on demand,”. The tension and frustration can remove fun and intimacy from sexual relationship.
  • Relationship fallout, marriages can suffer, too. Men often feel as though they have let their wives down. The stress can spill over into the marital relationship and many instances, divorce will take place.
  • Some men may seek sex outside a marriage as a way of affirming their masculinity and desirability to a woman, which will add up issues in the family.

Suggestions to overcome these negative responses;

  • Accepting your reality-though it takes time and effort, give yourself a chance to process your emotions.
  • Never hesitate to take help from a professional- Together with the medical treatment from a Fertility Specialist, Counselling and Marriage therapy are the most prevalent options to keep up with the emotional health. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) or Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT) are also proved as effective in such cases.

(A look at the literature on psychiatric morbidity in infertile men has shown that psychiatric morbidity is present in around 17% of men seeking treatments, with mood disorders, major depression and anxiety disorders.)

  • Stay well connected with your partner- remember that you are in this process together. Focus on your unconditional love and connecting as a couple and never try to keep things in the dark.
  • Look at this situation as a challenge to your relationship and find ways to improve the partnership. Infertility can draw you and your partner closer together, particularly when each person sees it as a team effort to overcome the problem.
  • Consider other options, including adoption, surrogacy and perhaps fertility treatmentsor evento have a child-free life.
  • Attempts should be made to reduce the barriers from stigmas associated with infertility due to religious and cultural beliefs so that people share their problems.
  • Create awareness about male infertility in society.  You can be the voice.