Male factor subfertility

Male factor subfertility is a condition that causes a man to have problems getting a woman pregnant. Subfertility is when a man has been unable to get a woman pregnant after 1 year of regular sex without birth control.

Subfertility usually refers to any form of reduced fertility, or infertility. Male factor subfertility, or a male factor infertility, refers to any number of the factors found within a male partner that may be preventing a couple from naturally conceiving a child. This issue accounts for around 40-50% of fertility issues recorded around the world, and 7% of men, or non-binary or transgender people who were born male, are believed to be affected by it.

Almost 1 in 7 couples will struggle to conceive naturally, and according to the NHS the problem will be related to male factor subfertility or infertility for 1 in 3 of these. In most cases, this factor will be the male partner’s sperm. This is a particularly common issue, and the quality of the male partner’s semen will often be used as a measure of fertility in medical examinations.

The way a male body produces sperm is complex. It requires healthy function in the testicles, the hypothalamus, and the pituitary gland (a gland at the base of the brain, which is responsible for hormone production). Sperm also need to be able to travel, unimpeded, through a delicate system of tubes to mix with semen and eventually be ejaculated. If any part of this system is affected by something else, there is a chance that male factor subfertility, or infertility, may be a result. 

The most common causes of male factor infertility can be split into three distinct groups. These are the person’s health and lifestyle choices, their medical conditions, and environmental factors. 

Health and lifestyle refers to factors such as age, weight, and alcohol or drug use; medical conditions refers to factors such as hormonal imbalances, chromosome defects, infections, or side-effects of prior surgeries; and environmental factors refers to repeated exposure to heavy metals, chemicals, radiation, or x-rays. Repeated overheating of the testicles, such as by frequently using hot tubs or saunas, may also be considered an environmental factor.

Even if one particular cause of male factor subfertility cannot be found, it is still possible for a specialist to recommend treatments that would allow a couple to conceive naturally. This may begin with them suggesting that the couple try for a baby for a little while longer, as many who do not conceive within the first year of trying will succeed in the second without any assistance. 

A doctor may also recommend certain health or lifestyle changes that could help to increase male fertility potential. These may include keeping to a regular diet, routine exercise, moderating alcohol consumption, and quitting smoking. If these do not work, or a diagnosis has been made which suggests that they will not work, then they may move on to recommend different fertility treatment options, such as medication, surgery, or assisted reproductive technologies.