Rhod Gilbert calls for openness around male infertility – what you need to know

There’s still a lot of stigma around the issue.

Comedian Rhod Gilbert wants to shine a light on the “hidden issues” around male infertility and eradicate the stigma surrounding it.

The Welsh stand-up comic is using his own experience of difficulties starting a family to front a new campaign, HIMFertility, and his journey exploring infertility has been filmed for a BBC documentary.

Historically fertility has been seen as a female issue, yet male infertility is thought to be a factor in up to half of cases. Gilbert says he knew “almost nothing” about male infertility before trying for a baby with his wife.

“Men aren’t always the best at opening up about sensitive subjects around health, but when it’s one that goes to the heart of notions of masculinity and virility, then we are even worse,” says the 51-year-old. “But this has got to change! It’s time to talk tackle – because by closing up and shutting down, we are leaving a hell of a lot of men feeling isolated, helpless and alone.”

There are lots of different causes for male infertility (iStock/PA)

Getting pregnant can often take longer than you think, and for some couples it can take more than two years to conceive. That being said, if you’ve regularly been trying for a baby for a year (and you’ve stopped using contraception) it could be a sign that you need to get your fertility assessed by a doctor.

Are there symptoms of male infertility?

In many cases, infertility won’t present any visible symptoms – and you’re only likely to find out when trying to conceive – but there are some changes that might arise if a medical condition is at the root of the cause.

For instance, the Bupa website says that if you have a condition that affects the testicles, you might see pain, swelling or prominent veins. An issue with the prostate gland, meanwhile, might trigger ejaculation issues, blood in your semen or pain after ejaculating.

Low hormone levels can also affect your fertility and cause problems getting an erection, changes to weight, a low libido and less facial hair.

What are the reasons for male infertility?

A GP can give you a full examination, which involves assessing your medical history and testing your sperm health.

An issue with the semen

The NHS says poor-quality semen is the most common cause of infertility in men. It may be caused by a low sperm count, sperm that aren’t moving properly or sperm that are an abnormal shape.

Damage to the testicles

The testicles are where sperm is produced and stored, so sperm quality can be seriously affected if you have an infection of your testicles, testicular cancer, or suffer an injury or surgery on the testicles. You may also have a congenital defect (a problem from birth) or undescended testicles – where one or both testicles hasn’t descended into the scrotum.

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Ejaculation disorders

Many men experience disruption of their ejaculatory function at some point in their life. Ejaculation disorders can be lifelong or acquired. If you have a persistent problem with ejaculation, it’s important to visit your GP.

A certain type of medicine

If you’ve been prescribed certain types of medicine, it’s worth checking with your doctor whether it could be affecting your sperm. Some medicines prescribed for Crohn’s Disease and rheumatoid arthritis, for instance, can temporarily decrease the number of sperm. Medicines used in chemotherapy can sometimes severely disrupt sperm production too.

You could have hypogonadism

Male hypogonadism is a condition in which the body doesn’t produce enough testosterone – the male hormone involved in making sperm. Changes to sperm production can ultimately affect your chances of conceiving.

Lifestyle

HIMfertility will highlight lifestyle changes that may increase men’s chances of fertility, such as stopping smoking, cutting down on alcohol, exercising, a healthier diet and keeping the testicles cool.

However, it’s important not to panic – some couples just take longer to conceive than others, and often it’s just timing and a big dose of luck.

It’s worth speaking to your GP if you’re concerned, as they can rule out any underlying reasons and, if needed, talk you through the different treatments and options that are available to you.

Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up To Infertility, will be broadcast on BBC One Wales in 2020.