Male Infertility: A Brief Overview

It’s not just little girls who grow up dreaming of becoming mommies one day…many boys also grow up envisioning their future as fathers!

But sometimes, it doesn’t happen that way…and the cause turns out to be male infertility.

Up to 15 percent of couples are infertile. This means they have not been able to conceive a child despite having had frequent, unprotected sexual intercourse for at least a year. In about a third of these couples, male infertility is the cause.

Men diagnosed with infertility, will often experience feelings typical of those grieving any loss — in this case the natural ability to father a child. Common reactions include shock, frustration and depression as well as a loss of self-esteem, self-confidence, and a feeling of control over their future.

Unfortunately, some men have to cope with the reality that there is no way to reverse the problem. But for other men, infertility treatments can offer real help.

In most cases of male infertility, the problem lies with either the sperm quality or the sperm delivery.

Any of the following conditions can cause a man to have a low sperm quality such as low sperm count: Varicocele, undescended testicle, infections in the testicle or prostate, certain medications or hormone problems.

Sometimes, the problem is not the sperm quality, but rather, the delivery. Men with this type of infertility have healthy sperm in their testicles, but the sperm are not successfully getting to where they need to go.

Some causes are: An obstruction between the testicles and the penis, absence of the Vas Deferens (the main sperm pipeline), retrograde ejaculation (a condition where semen ejaculates backwards into the bladder instead of out the penis), anti-sperm antibodies which attack a man’s own sperm on they make their way to the egg.

 So what can be done?

Fortunately, a lot! The first step is an evaluation by a urologist specializing in male infertility.

Web MD lists the following available treatments:

  • Varicoceles are repaired with surgery to block off the abnormal veins. This seems to result in a significant improvement in fertility, although some studies disagree.
  • Hormonal abnormalities can sometimes be treated with medicine or surgery.
  • Obstructions in the sperm transport plumbing can sometimes be surgically corrected.

In the past, if the above methods didn’t work, it often meant lifelong male infertility. Today, assisted reproductive techniques (ARTs) offer powerful new options.

These high-tech and expensive male infertility treatments give sperm an artificial boost to get into an egg. ARTs have made conception possible even for men with very low or abnormal sperm.

First, sperm are collected either from ejaculated semen or by a needle from the testicle. They are then processed and introduced to eggs by different methods.

  • Intrauterine insemination (IUI.)At the time of ovulation, sperm are injected directly up into the uterus. Medicines are usually given to the woman first to increase the number of eggs she releases.
  • In-vitro fertilization (IVF.)Sperm are mixed with multiple eggs collected from the woman in a “test tube” (actually just a plastic dish.). Fertilized eggs are then placed in the uterus. IVF requires at least some viable sperm.
  • Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI.)A single sperm is injected through a tiny needle into an egg. The fertilized egg is then implanted in the uterus. ICSI can be performed when sperm counts are extremely low or abnormal.

 By using some combination of assisted reproductive techniques for several months, a pregnancy is usually achieved in about 50% of couples. That is encouraging news!

We wish you well on your journey towards parenthood, wherever it may lead you.


“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…
It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
― Vivian Greene