Male causes of secondary infertility

When we hear the term secondary infertility, we can assume this condition is only affecting the female partner. As with primary infertility, we envisage a woman in her thirties with a toddler and a sad face. The sad face being due to the fact that the toddler is being denied the companionship of a sibling or two. But in actual fact, the reason for secondary infertility could actually lie with the male partner.

Secondary infertility is diagnosed when the couple have already had at least one child and are trying to get pregnant again, but don’t conceive after at least one year of trying. If the female partner is over 35, then infertility is diagnosed after only 6 months of trying with no success.

One third of secondary infertility cases originate from the male partner

However, male secondary infertility is nearly as common as female secondary infertility. In fact, about one-third of all the secondary infertility cases originate in the male partner of the female trying to conceive.

Generally, there are two causes of male secondary infertility:

  • Varicocele: this condition presents as an enlargement of veins in the scrotum or the sac of the skin encasing the testicles. The enlarged veins are thought to cause blood pooling, which overheats the sperm cells, inactivating them. It is responsible for about one in five male secondary infertility cases
  • Decreased testosterone levels: Testosterone, the male sex hormone, plays a key role in sperm production. Levels of testosterone can be affected by aging, injury to the testicles and certain medical conditions, such as genitourinary infections and thyroid disease. The majority of cases of male secondary infertility are caused by low testosterone levels.

Varicocele is treatable by surgery, but the level of success achieved in restoring fertility is mixed. However, if the cause is decreased testosterone levels there are more options available.

Boosting testosterone

Testosterone can be boosted by some changes to lifestyle. Here are some options:

  • Break those unhealthy habits: tobacco use, drug abuse and high alcohol intake can make life hard for sperm cells. Cutting down on these kinds of bad habits can start to restore healthy levels of testosterone.
  • Find ways to reduce stress: stress is also thought to have a negative effect on sperm health. Finding ways to cope with stress is not easy, particularly if the source of the stress is circumstances that can’t be changed overnight. Examples of this include stress related to employment or social issues. However, physical exercise is a failsafe option as it often goes hand-in-hand with improved sleep patterns.
  • Lose excess pounds: excessive weight gain decreases levels of testosterone and increases estrogen levels in males, leading to hampered sperm production and quality. A healthy diet can redress this allowing you to lose pounds and then maintain a healthy weight while testosterone levels recover.

Secondary infertility doesn’t get as much empathy as primary

Medical professionals agree that secondary infertility can be devastating, with a high emotional toll on individuals and couples. However, those suffering from secondary fertility do not always receive a high level of empathy particularly males.

As one doctor puts it, “Men, especially, can experience a lack of empathy from family members and friends, who may tell them they should be thankful to already have one child. The key to emotionally coping with secondary infertility is to open communication channels with those that are close to you, while reaching out to online support groups for inspiration. Also, don’t hesitate to seek professional guidance from qualified counsellors.”