The Male Biological Clock: Is Time Running out for Your?

By Chappell, Kevin | Ebony, June 2005 | Go to article overview

The Male Biological Clock: Is Time Running out for Your?


Chappell, Kevin, Ebony


IT has always been a woman's issue, one that has guided everything from career moves to marriage. Indeed, the female biological clock--a countdown to the dreaded moment when a woman's ovaries stop producing eggs and infertility sets in--has been the source of much discussion and angst, especially in today's society when women are waiting longer and longer to bear children.

But is fertility solely a women's issue? It's been said that it takes two to tango. So what role do males play in the fertility crisis that confronts some 6 million couples each year?

Traditionally, men haven't been tested, or not tested thoroughly, for potential fertility problems. All medical attention was on the female as the male partner was sometimes considered a mere bystander who chilled out in the waiting room while his partner was poked and prodded to uncover a problem that was assumed (by mostly male doctors and experts) to be hers.

"Unfortunately, the conventional wisdom is wrong," says Dr. Harry Fisch, M.D., one of the nation's leading urologists and author of The Male Biological Clock. "Men have biological clocks too."

Viewing male sexual health in terms of a biological clock is a new way of approaching the issue. Indeed, there is increasing research that debunks the traditional thought that men can father children as easily at 75 as at 25. In fact, in about 40 percent of fertility cases--as defined by the inability of a couple to conceive after at least one year of unprotected sexual intercourse--the problem lies with the man. In another 40 percent, it's the woman with the problem, and in another 20 percent either both partners contribute or the cause is unknown. That adds up to about 10 percent of men who are trying to father a child either being infertile or subfertile; that translates to roughly 2.5 million men in the United States alone.

Men older than 35 are twice as likely to be infertile as men younger than age 26. In addition, as men age, the genetic quality of their sperm (ability to impregnate a female egg) declines significantly. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of babies born to parents older than age 35 more than doubled from 1970 to 1999, from 6 percent to 13 percent. This trend has led to the rise in the rates of infertility in the past decade, and to increased miscarriage rates and the possibility of a baby born with Down Syndrome (in addition to other genetic abnormalities).

Experts like Dr. Chiledum Ahaghotu, associate professor of urology at Howard University Hospital, are increasingly looking at the male partner first when addressing fertility issues in couples, especially since the initial evaluation of a man can be performed more rapidly and less invasively than with a woman.

So why has male infertility been kept under wraps for so long? The main reason may be the long-held notion that infertility is associated with impotence or decreased masculinity. In a male-driven society, a "real" man is supposed to be able to produce offspring for much of his life. "A lot of it has to do with how society is structured," Dr. Ahaghotu says. "Male infertility, much like prostate cancer, was traditionally viewed as something that wasn't talked about. But increased awareness and dispelling a lot of myths are changing the way we look at the problem."

Male fertility is never a matter of "manliness" or "machismo." Most times it is a medical issue, some type of mechanical breakdown that has crippled testosterone and sperm production. But dispelling existing myths about men's roles in pregnancy is not easy in a society where the words "male" and "biological clock" aren't typically used in the same sentence.

Medical experts stress that it is important to understand that the male biological clock isn't like that of a woman. It doesn't strike at midnight, signaling an absolute end to fertility. It's more of a gradual process, with testosterone levels declining with age. …

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