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Masculinity, Virility and Infertility

Red metal lantern shwining on black background - light at the end of the tunnel when dealing with toxic masculinity and infertility.

The unspoken toll of the toxic masculinity on men.

A quick Google search or skim through your Instagram feed would probably leave you with the sense that infertility is a female health issue, experienced by – and talked about by – women. Masculinity and infertility appear as polar opposites, or at least that is what toxic masculinity would like you to believe, but the statistics say otherwise. Infertility affects 1 in 4 couples globally, with fertility problems presenting most commonly as one third female factor, one third male factor and one third unexplained. Which begs the question… where did the men go? In a medical issue that is split evenly between men and women, why would one ever believe infertility to be a women’s health issue? 

When it comes to reproductive health, we’ve been set up for this by two things: historical narratives around male fertility and virility, and by association, masculinity, and what we learn in school

This contributes to an inability (or unwillingness) on the part of men to admit to being anything less than perfectly “Alpha”. Historical narratives around women being responsible for bearing children alleviate the burden of fertility from the shoulders of men even today – but it’s a double-edged sword. Henry VIII divorced two wives and chopped off two others’ heads for not birthing sons, and the ridiculous concept of a ‘barren’ woman still exists to this day – though executing your wives is now considered distasteful. Margaret Atwood’s writing tells of a world in which male infertility is something close to science fiction, while women’s level of oppression is determined by their fertility levels.

The narratives and attitudes associated with toxic masculinity are not helpful for several reasons. Primarily, they rob men of the opportunity to explore and understand their fertility, an opportunity which can only come through talking about it. Currently, many men who talk openly about their fertility feel as though they risk being seen as weak or not masculine. When male infertility is not discussed, the burden of fertility falls on women, which is unfair. 

Let us be clear: infertility is a human health issue. When we tie infertility to sex or gender – as historically we have – we do all humans a disservice. So, how do we fix this?

Fixing this problem needs to start back in the classroom, during first those crucial sex education lessons. As teenagers, we need to be taught about fertility and pregnancy as something that affects all of us. Only by instilling that fertility is something which should be spoken about openly in our early stages, can we remove the shame and awkwardness too often associated with these conversations. In turn, this will allow the next generation – especially the next generation of men – to speak openly about their own fertility and seek help when they need it, without having to battle with feeling ashamed or embarrassed. What can each of us do today to help?

Talk. Talk to everyone around you, your father, brother, husband, wife, sister, mother, friend. The more we discuss fertility, the closer we get to a world where there is no stigma attached to the subject. You’ll likely find that once you bring it up in conversations, those around you will be keen to share their experiences with fertility, and you’ll plant the idea in their head that fertility can be spoken about without shame or awkwardness. Toxic masculinity silences men and overburdens women, so it is up to all of us to encourage these open conversations.

This article was edited by Béa Fertility, read the original article by Kai Nicol-Schwarz in full in Sifted.

Disclaimer: Gender is experienced differently by all, particularly when it comes to our fertility. Our articles are written by a variety of authors, all of whom bring their experiences into their writing. Some articles will reflect these experiences more than others, and our goal is always to create content that represents all families.