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Masculinities, infertility and men's health; towards a theoretical understanding of men's experiences of infertility treatments

In the UK infertility affects around one in six couples, which is around three and a half million people. Advances in reproductive technology have had a huge impact on infertility, with procedures such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) helping otherwise infertile couples to have children. ICSI in particular has been heralded as a revolution in overcoming male infertility; allowing specialists to choose the best performing individual sperm and thus potentially providing opportunities for infertile men to be genetic fathers. This has been an important breakthrough given that, broadly speaking, the reasons for infertility in couples is pretty much shared equally between men and women.

However, despite the evidence that men represent roughly half of the problem when couples are trying to conceive, the lack of research regarding men and infertility is striking. Men have been termed as ‘missing’ or ‘hidden’ or described as the ‘second sex’ or ‘shadowy figures’ when it comes to infertility research. As a result the connections between masculine identity, men’s bodies and infertility have rarely been made transparent. Little is also known about men’s experiences of the clinic, even in relation to procedures that are uniquely related to them, such as providing sperm samples and surgical sperm extraction. Men’s interactions with consultants and other clinic staff is a further neglected area. Added to which little is also known about how clinic staff regard men in consultations and treatment visits. This research therefore began to explore the broader and deeper understandings of how men experience and live with infertility and infertility treatment. It did so from the perspective of men undergoing treatment. It consciously attempted to separate out men’s experiences of the condition of infertility itself from their experiences of infertility treatment. Though of course, in reality, these two aspects of the men’s lives are closely intertwined.

Dr Alan Dolan (Principal Investigator)






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