The Marginalization of an Infertile Man

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About Marcus Williams

Marcus Williams writes what he knows, which is a lot about a little and not much about everything else.


  1. Congratulations on becoming a father. Your perseverance is admirable!

    When men like the author struggle to get respect from medical professionals but there are sperm banks and fertility clinics across the country and abroad that are lining up to help women, what does it say about how society values men and fatherhood? It seems like it just reinforces the idea that men are disposable and fathers interchangeable figures.

  2. Celeste says:

    I went through infertility as well, and you are so right, it’s not pleasant. I would agree with you that in real life, there is not much attention paid to the man in the couple during anything reproductive. The division of reproductive labor just isn’t in a man’s favor, I suppose…which is pretty far from treating men like partners. I read exactly one book during that time which dealt with the male aspect, which was, “Not Yet Pregnant: Infertility in America”. It was done by somebody who surveyed people who went to RESOLVE support group meetings, so it had a lot of statistical breakdowns, mixed with some interviews. I sometimes wonder if the fact of male infertility being a urological subspecialty is because there are fewer ways to address male infertility. I do think it’s good to talk about this.

  3. I think the marginalization of men when it comes to infertility (and the seeming overwhelming focus on “getting her pregnant”) may point to the idea that as long he can ejaculate a man doesn’t really matter than much when it comes to parenting (until the baby is born and its time to pay the bills).

    It’s worth noting that the vast majority of infertility stories I’ve heard, even the ones about men, were being shared by women. It seems that it’s not just fertility doctors making men feel like they don’t belong in the room, but men themselves who often choose to either clam up about it, or make it all about their wives.
    We are told that as men our virility is a big (if not defining) part of being a man and when we don’t come through on this requirement we’re broken, and from what I’ve seen women get the same treatment when it comes to the ability to bear a child. But (for the most part) unlike women men also have the nice little “bonus” of being told to keep it all in and never talk about it. Stoic and all that.

    When told that your ability to get a woman pregnant is a vital part of your gender/sexual identity but come up short on that requirement and have been raised to believe that you are not allowed to talk about your problems (and bear in mind this problem comes on two fronts, medical and emotional, the two place men are raised to clam up on at all costs) is it any wonder that not many men speak up on this?

    Thanks for speaking up.

  4. Copyleft says:

    I’m encountering a truly alien perspective in reading this article. I have no idea why inferility would be traumatic or problematic, much less “heartbreaking,” but I guess it’s important to some people.

    Me, I don’t see infertility as a problem. It doesn’t endanger your health, it doesn’t indicate any related genuine medical problems… and as long as even one orphanage is operating, it’s not a societal crisis. Maybe having a kid built out of your own DNA, rather than someone else’s, is important to some people–but I can’t see why.

    • Does this mean you won’t be buying my book?

      • That was the best reply ever, Marcus. (Yours, that is).

        Also, thank you for opening yourself up and sharing your story. I will be completely honest and say that this is something I haven’t even thought about until now. Hopefully more people will be made aware of how one-sided the treatment of infertility is in our society and it can change.

  5. I guess I was lucky that our fertiliy clinic made sure every stone was turned to find out why my wife and I weren’t conceiving. They quickly sent me for semen analysis, and ultrasounds etc etc. Before finding out it was more of an issue with my wife, and god bless her for enduring months and months of needles ( fun fact – all administered by me). The result is the amazing four-year-old who stays up too late and doesn’t want to wake up on time.

    • Congrats! I’m glad it worked out for you and your wife. Like you, I was the shot giver (and shot preparer) because my wife couldn’t even look at the needles, much less giver herself a shot. We had a whole routine where she’d lie down and get relaxed while I prepped the dose, and then after every shot she rewarded herself with a chocolate. The needles were no small obstacle to overcome with her, so I was then and still remain impressed with her ability to submit to all those shots. I don’t even have that phobia, but it would still suck to get that many shots.

      In my case, the source of my infertility was never really a mystery, at least as far as knowing I was azoospermic even before deciding whether to try fertility treatments, but as I described, it was no easy task getting a doctor to give me a full consultation and range of options, in contrast to what happens when a woman shows up at a fertility clinic and gets the full work-up and presentation of options, regardless of the nature of the infertility. My stones were more ignored than unturned, with donor sperm being pretty much the first and only option our RE wanted to talk about upon hearing that I was azoospermic. My wife turned out to have issues, too (age-related), but it didn’t take going to four doctors to find one inclined to discuss the diagnosis and options in depth.

  6. Well said Marcus…more men need to talk about this to normalize it…and to be reminded that there are two people in this process. My wife and I started a couples support group through Resolve to fill that void, and it was amazing just how marginalized guys felt at first–but how they found their voice in the process as they talked out loud about it more often…the old strength in numbers thing maybe? To Niel@GMI–you hit on an important point–you need to know the success rates of the clinic you are going to. The SART report..( has success rates for clinics all over the country–and I can assure you not all REs/Infertility doctors are the same. Many OBgyns are dabbling in infertility under the supervision of an RE (our first 2 years of treatment were under the supervision of a guy with “license egg hunter” pin, but no actual Reproductive Endocrinologist training/degree). By RE #3, we finally read the SART report (also after IVF #3 failed) and picked one of the top 5 clinics in the country that did EVERY test on both of our biology from day one. We threw a hail mary pass when we picked the #2 clinic in the country (53% success rate for our age/fertility problems compared with 23% at the best clinic we had gone to in our home state) but made the catch in the fertility end zone–when our last 2 frozen embryos scored us our now 9.5 year old daughter.

    • Thank you, Denny. (And thanks for your article, too!)

      Success rates can be a useful guide for sure, but they don’t tell the whole story. I wholeheartedly agree with going to a bona fide specialist, not just a dabbler in fertility, when you know that’s what you’ll need. Among those specialists and clinics, though, it’s possible for some to keep their success rates higher by turning away more difficult cases, while those who take the harder cases may be the best for *those cases*, but their overall success rates will suffer. These aren’t really things you can pick up on just by looking at numbers in SART, which is one reason support groups like yours – or online – can be a tremendous resource in choosing the best match for your needs. Infertility comes in many types and degrees, so while the place with the best stats are always attractive, sometimes a couple might be better off going to a place that specializes more in difficult cases, even if that makes their stats less encouraging.

      RE #1 for us had decent success numbers, but terrible bedside manner. Every time we saw him, he would mention my wife’s age about five times. The very first time, it’s relevant and fine to explain why. Every time after that just felt to her like rubbing it in or implying that we hadn’t understood why age was a factor. When the first cycle failed, we didn’t hesitate to switch. RE #2′s practice was still so new she didn’t even have published SART numbers yet, but we had confidence in her previous experience at a reputable fertility clinic with good numbers, and she had great bedside manner. She was able to add us to her “success” column on our first cycle with her, but we wouldn’t have considered her if basing the decision on SART reports alone.

  7. Jameseq says:

    It wasn’t great news, but it took roughly eight years and four doctors to finally hear it from someone who sounded like he knew what he was talking about, and was talking to me. It was the first time I felt visible in an infertility process that began with my own infertility!
    He found sperm. Not just one, either. He found 23. (Fun Fact: In a fertile male, a typical ejaculate contains hundreds of millions of sperm. Less than 40 million is considered sub-fertile.) Thanks to ICSI, every one of those 23 found its way into an egg.

    23, wow that the doc was able to find 23 healthy sperm is a testament to his skill and expertise

    Infertility is not easy on anyone, so I’m not trying to make it out like men have it harder.

    if yours and emilia’s articles
    are indicative of the general level of clinical knowledge and practice regarding male infertility – then lets not pull our punches.
    one would think it is standard practice to investigate WHY a man is infertile, that it isnt – is truly astonishing.
    the convention seems to be a just a shrug of shoulders.

    • Thank you for your comments. My beef is more with the clinical practice than the clinical knowledge . That is, male infertility seems to be pretty well understood, but there don’t seem to be near as many practitioners specializing in it as there are the female types of infertility. I think there are some valid medical and business reasons why that’s so (fewer treatments are possible for men, and women drive the market), *but* that doesn’t excuse terrible bedside manner, or a tendency to deflect and minimize men instead of referring them to one of those specialists out there that could help them.

  8. I wonder if doctors in fertility clinics just assume that the male part of the equation doesn’t matter much because donor sperm is so easily available, so there’s no point investigating the cause of male infertility or trying to fix it? If so, that’s really unfortunate. More men like you need to speak up about their experience.


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