Men's experiences of fertility treatment

Here we discuss men’s experiences of treatment, including their reactions to their partner’s treatment.

Men who were told that the problem was due to poor sperm quality sometimes felt guilty, at least at first. Brian discovered that he was the cause of their infertility after a previous doctor had misread the results.

Walter found out that he was infertile in a particularly abrupt way. His trousers were still around his ankles when the doctor delivered the news that he had testicular atrophy and he wasn’t producing any sperm. “So it was a kind of a bit of a body blow to hear that.” He came to terms with this news and he and his wife decided to have children with donor sperm, but it was an “emotional rollercoaster”. His children are now grown up and although he has had a very happy family life with his two donor-conceived children, he said that his infertility was something that “never finishes”.

Mike had an illness in his youth that left him infertile, and he was fairly relaxed about needing donated sperm to conceive a family. He said that, “The concept of having a healthy, strong thoroughly checked out sperm baby…. wasn’t going to be an issue”.

Men sometimes had to have more active treatment – George, for example had to have a sperm aspiration operation with a general anaesthetic.

Whatever the cause of their infertility, men (and women) often feel that they experience infertility from the side-lines. Nearly all of the treatment happens to the woman.

Although treatment wasn’t happening to them, being on the sidelines of treatment, or a bystander, could be distressing for men, who sometimes felt embarrassed and guilty that they had such a small role to play. Brian said, “She had this horrible test done and…. all I’ve ever done is read a nice magazine and sat in a room, and that’s horrible”. 

Maggie felt her laparascopy was hard on her husband. He was side-lined and felt powerless. “I’m very lucky, my husband would do anything he could to make me happy. But this was one thing that would make me happy, he couldn’t do. And that was very very difficult for him”.

Men sometimes said they were worried about the effect of treatments on their wife’s long-term health. Oliver was scared when his wife had to go “under the knife” but did not want his alarm to show. Brian said the egg collection was horrible because he felt that he was at “fault”.

Tim, who on the whole described himself as very stoical about their infertility and treatment, found it distressing to sit in on the egg collection procedure.

Oliver said his wife would have been happy to adopt, but that he had been the one pushing for IVF treatment, which was difficult because it was his wife who had to go through it. Their treatment had been successful and they had a daughter, but he felt his wife would have been cross with him if it hadn’t worked out.
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Men were sometimes unsure what they could do to support their partners, and did not always know whether they had got it right. Brian said that he thought maybe he should have encouraged his wife to talk more about how she was feeling, but she was a stoic and tended to keep things to herself. James said that he very much hoped that his wife thought he had been supportive but since she tended to “suffer quietly” and did not put pressure on him, he was not sure.

Men sometimes got involved by helping with the injections (see ‘IVF & ICSI’) although one man said that this was far from easy since his wife was, “Like a premiership footballer” when it came to pain tolerance. 

Oliver said that the most important role he could perform was sharing as much as possible. He also mentioned that it was “amazing” to attend the transfer. Mike felt his role was to give as much support as he could, “It is not my sperm but everything else is me”. Brian felt he was, “Being the optimist I think, and a shoulder to cry on.“

Men also said they did research on the condition and clinics, and helped by hiding their own concerns, staying calm, attending appointments, listening to what the doctors were saying and helping to explain what was happening to other people. Sandra said that her husband fielded calls from friends and family when things went wrong and she couldn’t talk to them. Oliver said he would sometimes have a “quiet word” when friends were asking too many questions.

Lulu and George both pointed out that the man can make some contribution by looking after his own health, giving up smoking, cutting down on drinking and maybe taking dietary supplements.

The importance of support was seconded by several of the women' Sarah said her husband, “Tries to keep upbeat to try and drag me along a bit”. Naomi said the support that her husband had given her throughout their treatment was the most important bit. 

See also ‘Men and coping’.

​Last reviewed July 2017.


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