Infertility Research Excludes Men, Keeping the Burden of Getting Pregnant on Women
Nearly 27 million couples who are actively seeking children in India have fertility problems. In at least 30% to 40% of these cases, infertility was found to be related to reproductive anomalies in the male partner, according to a 2015 study by Ernst & Young.
Yet, men are missing from fertility discussions and research, revealed a study titled “Missing Men, Missing Fertility,” compiled by researchers from the UK’s Lancaster University. Either fertility studies leave out men entirely, the report found, or they only include married and/or heterosexual men.
Jasmine Fledderjohann, PhD, and Celia Roberts, PhD, both from the university’s department of sociology, noticed that even though studies had increasingly included men over time, single, divorced and transgender men remained missing in many survey settings. So did men from the global south, specifically men from Latin America, North Africa, parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
“A lot has been done about curing female infertility, it’s time to work on men and discovering ways on how to solve [men’s] problem.”
In India, the story’s not very different. The Secretary-General of the Indian Fertility Society, Dr Pankaj Talwar, says until about five years ago, men were completely absent in conversations about fertility and infertility. “It’s because they were considered ‘perfect.’ If a couple wasn’t being able to have children, it was because of the woman,” he says. “Now, as women are getting more educated and progressive, they are realizing that men can be infertile, too. They are slowly becoming a part, but it’ll be a while before they are represented equally.”
Agrees Dr Duru Shah, a gynecologist. “Though there is enough known about male infertility, it is not discussed too much, purely because of the image that men can’t be infertile,” she says.
But Dr Talwar argues there isn’t enough known about male infertility, and that excluding men from studies could lead to fertility problems never being resolved. “In a country that is grappling with infertility — with men contributing equally — excluding one gender’s problem will lead to only the other one receiving attention and ways to correct it,” he says.
Researchers Fledderjohann and Roberts say family and population policies are formed on the basis of results from such surveys. Men’s invisibility from studies would mean such policies are lopsided and not gender neutral. Hence, their exclusion from reproductive data, the authors argue, contributes to inequality in terms of who is supported in (and held accountable for) family-building within communities and societies. It also contributes to women bearing the brunt of fertility treatments (a lack of data means a lack of treatment options for male infertility), as well as the stigma and guilt associated with infertility.
And ultimately, the lack of scientific insight means a problem isn’t getting solved, says Dr Talwar.
“A lot has been done about curing female infertility, it’s time to work on men and discovering ways on how to solve their problem,” he says.