Today, we’re talking about the “F” word — fertility. (That’s what you were thinking … right?) Fertility refers to the ability to conceive children, and while this may happen easily for some, it can be a difficult road for others. Whether you’re trying to get pregnant now or thinking about getting pregnant down the line, learning more about fertility is one way to feel more informed about conception — a process that leaves many feeling confused, overwhelmed, or powerless.
But let’s be clear: fertility isn’t an issue that’s limited to women and their reproductive systems. After all, it takes two to tango. Though it’s not discussed nearly as often, a man’s fertility is also critical. “Fertility is a team effort, with the woman being the star. [They’re] the focus because they create and sustain the environment for conception, gestation, and delivery,” says Dr. James Wang, a doctor who specializes in both female and male fertility at the San Francisco-based health clinic Radiant Health. “She holds the central role, but men [also] play an important and supporting role in fertility.”
Since women carry the bulk of the responsibility, it makes sense that there are countless articles, vitamins, apps, and other tools to help women understand and boost their fertility. But what’s a dude to do? We sat down with Dr. Wang, to find out.
A man’s role in conception
Dr. Wang explains that until science advances, conception will always require an egg from a woman and sperm from a man. But for the sperm to successfully play its part, Wang says that three things are required. First, a man must be able to produce sperm. Second, the sperm needs to be healthy and capable of fertilizing an egg. And third, a man needs to deliver the sperm to the woman’s egg.
Fertility problems will arise if these three requirements aren’t met. “There are men who suffer from testicular failure, which can result in decreased sperm production,” says Dr. Wang. “Sperm produced can have genetic defects and physical dysfunctions that make them unhealthy and nonviable. Even with healthy sperm at a high enough count, some men are unable to attain and sustain an erection to deliver the sperm.”
Dr. Wang’s tips for avoiding these issues
Try not to keep the testes too close to the body. This increases heat and decreases sperm production. Stay away from tight clothing and don’t make too many trips to the hot tub. As the name implies, make sure laptops are placed on laps — not on testicles.
Pop a daily multivitamin. Dr. Wang says that increasing zinc, boron, vitamin C, and vitamin D all support healthy sperm production.
Don’t forget about physical and mental exercise. “Resistance training and meditation can reduce stress and cortisol levels, thereby allowing for more testosterone production,” says Dr. Wang. “This is a one-two punch for increased fertility.”
Remember, information is power. Dr. Wang advises seeing your doctor to discuss male fertility concerns. Your doctor or a fertility specialist may be able to perform a semen analysis or administer a hormone test. “You won’t know until you check,” says Dr. Wang.
Overcoming cultural stereotypes
“Culturally, men — especially younger men — are labelled as weak or needy if they seek health advice or care,” says Dr. Wang. “Many men are reluctant to even ask basic questions, let alone ask for help, for fear of social stigma.”
Dr. Wang says it’s critical for men to learn about their fertility and for society to encourage them to do so. “By understanding and accepting his responsibility for his own sexual health and his role in fertility, he is also beginning to accept his current or future role as the father of the family,” he says. “We must also take steps towards creating a more supportive environment where men will feel more safe and comfortable getting guidance.”
Women leading the way
Leading by example is one way to help the men in your life. “When women ask questions about their fertility, it’s modeling positive behavior to men to do the same,” says Dr. Wang. “Without the fear and shame, men often become inquisitive and invested in their own health. For couples, when both parties ask for help, they end up feeling like they’re on the same team and striving for the same goal: conception.”