Focus groups shed light on male partner’s experience of infertility

May 30, 2019

Male partners of infertile couples experience substantial emotional and psychological distress, which is often unrecognized, according to new data presented at the AUA annual meeting in Chicago.

Male partners of infertile couples experience substantial emotional and psychological distress, which is often unrecognized, according to new data presented at the AUA annual meeting in Chicago.

The authors reported that men experience female-factor infertility differently from male-factor infertility.

“We were kind of shocked,” said study investigator Akanksha Mehta, MD, assistant professor of urology at Emory University School of Medicine, Atlanta. She and her colleagues found that there is a much greater need for specific support services geared toward the male partner. Normalizing the experience, improving access to care for men, and developing easily understood materials are paramount, according to the authors.

Until recently, information on reproductive health and support services for infertile couples has been mainly geared toward female partners. That needs to change, according to Dr. Mehta and her co-authors. They conducted a study with exploratory focus groups involving 13 male and 14 female participants affected by infertility. The focus groups, which were run by trained facilitators, documented comments via audio recordings and written summaries.

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The focus groups discussed individual experiences with male-factor and female-factor infertility, and the availability and quality of education materials pertaining to the diagnosis and treatment of male factor infertility. The authors found that feelings of grief and loss related to the inability to have a family were common. Dr. Mehta said men reported problems communicating with their partners, and this often led to emotional isolation.

“There are very little data on what the male partner’s experience is, and what they go through in terms of diagnosis,” Dr. Mehta said in an interview with Urology Times. “This was a well-educated group and they had no idea they could have a problem and they completely rejected that notion and that really surprised me.” She also was surprised by how uneducated the men were health wise.

The authors found that with female-factor infertility, men viewed their primary role as problem solvers. However, that was not the case when it was a male-factor infertility issue. The men reported frequent self-blame, loss of manhood, and feelings of guilt and isolation.

“There is a stigma around infertility for men and women. It has been thought of as a female problem, but for men who are supposed to be the stronger sex, for them to find they are impotent, that is a big blow to their psyche sometimes, and that is something they don’t necessarily want to discuss,” said Dr. Mehta.

Barriers to treatment for men

The focus groups also indicated that there are significant barriers to treatment for men, and all participants reported frustration with the lack of information about male infertility. They also complained about difficulty in finding reputable websites pertaining to male reproductive health. Another issue cited was a scarcity of male reproductive health specialists.

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The study showed there were significant differences in the types of information men wanted and how they wanted it presented compared to their female counterparts. Men wanted easy-to-understand, centralized information about male infertility. Women were interested in getting comprehensive, detailed materials with links to additional resources. Both men and women said there is a need for mental health resources geared to couples with infertility.

“This is a good start and we hope to build on this onward,” said Dr. Mehta. “It needs to be discussed more. When they go in for an infertility visit after 1 year of trying, they are going to see a reproductive endocrinologist. Ideally, they need to refer the men to urologists, but that happens less than 10% of time.”