Dr. Paul J. Turek on Why Men Don’t Deal with Fertility
“Men don’t see a doctor unless something is bleeding or broken,” is a common saying and sadly describes a lot of male patients. When this attitude meets stigma and shame about infertility, many men avoid the diagnosis and its treatment. We caught up with Dr. Paul J. Turek to discuss the reasons men don’t confront their fertility issues and how we can change this longstanding situation. Dr. Turek is an American surgeon and reproductive health specialist who has received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant for his research on using stem cells to help infertile men become fathers.
Why do many men who are having trouble starting a family avoid fertility treatment?
The primary reason is stigma and stress about infertility. Men are under intense pressure to be “normal” and conform to traditional ideals of masculinity that includes continuing their family line. The idea of fatherhood is, well, sacred in many cultures. Few men have ever imagined or want to hear that they cannot impregnate their partner or otherwise conceive a child by “normal” means.
Can you describe some of the struggles men face after an infertility diagnosis?
It’s one of the loneliest experiences a man can have. Men diagnosed with male infertility suffer sexual, social, and personal stress comparable to those diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis is as taboo as with AIDS or syphilis and a terrible blow to one’s sense of manhood, self-confidence, and sexual function. Most men grow up expecting and expected to have children, which makes infertility a “shameful” secret they keep from the rest of the world.
What is the most important thing men should know about infertility?
Two things are most important. Firstly, it’s not your fault. So many men deal with guilt as well as shame over difficulties starting a family. Most likely the problem was caused by a genetic or unrelated medical issue. Even patients dealing with fertility issues due to an STD gain nothing by beating themselves up — and indeed only increase the stress of the treatment process. And that’s the second and more important thing: there’s hope.
Treatments exist for most forms of male infertility, and I’ve had years of success helping men diagnosed with infertility become fathers.