“Fertility is a woman’s problem” is an old trope we’ve all heard or been led to believe at some point, be it through the movies we watch, the articles we read or information we gather from peers. I’m a reproductive endocrinologist of infertility (REI), and I’ve spent over a decade in clinical practice and conducting research to improve both the tools we use to diagnose infertility and the treatments we can provide to individuals who struggle to conceive.
The misconception that fertility is a “woman’s problem” is one I want us to do away with for good, because it is inaccurate and unfair to people with ovaries who already bear so much of the responsibility when it comes to carrying a baby and giving birth.
A lesser-known component about infertility is that male factor fertility issues are as common as female factor fertility issues when a couple is struggling to conceive. In fact, research shows that male factor fertility issues are involved in 40% to 50% of cases where a couple struggles to conceive—and in 20% to 30% of cases, they’re the primary factor.
Society has led women to think that infertility is a problem with our bodies, but the truth is, men play an equal role in the fertility equation. So if having biological children is a part of your family planning, both partners can take ownership of their part in that process. For people with sperm, that means understanding male reproductive health and male infertility. The process can start with a semen analysis, followed by a discussion with a healthcare provider.
That said, I know that bringing up sperm testing with your partner doesn’t necessarily feel natural, and I get it—it’s not a conversation we’re taught to have. As a REI, many women have asked me how they can approach this conversation in a way that feels comfortable.
Here are some helpful frameworks I like to share with them.
This is about you two supporting each other
Having kids is a joint decision and a very meaningful one. The good news is that you two can start supporting each other through it early, even before you decide to start trying to conceive.
Semen analysis and hormone testing are simple ways you and your partner can start to learn about your bodies and plan ahead for what’s next, both through more informed conversations with each other and your doctor.
Related: 8 ways to boost male fertility
It’s no secret that childbearing is disproportionately more challenging for people with ovaries, so if your partner has sperm, getting a semen analysis helps them play a more active role in their part of the process.
Here’s what to say: “There are at-home fertility tests for both of us that can help us understand our reproductive health and plan for our future—want to try them out?”
I see the increased accessibility of semen analysis as a transformative step in helping people with sperm play a greater role in the fertility equation.
Coming out of the pandemic, home testing is now commonplace
From at-home Covid tests to DNA tests and over-the-counter pregnancy and ovulation testing, there are now a host of personal health results that we test for at home. Semen analysis doesn’t have to be so different.
A silver lining coming out of the pandemic is that many of us are now a lot more comfortable with the at-home testing format, and a lot more intentional about our personal health. Anecdotally, I’ve heard from a lot of women in my practice that amid the uncertainty of a pandemic, there’s greater desire to have agency over the areas that we can control, especially when it comes to healthcare and important personal life decisions.
This all sets the stage for at-home semen analysis to feel a lot more approachable than it might once have been.
Info is power, and learning about your body is an act of self-respect
We now track our steps, sleep, nutrition and fitness with personalized tools—and we take great pride in understanding our bodies and optimizing for our future health goals. Why wouldn’t we add fertility hormone tests and sperm tests to that list?
Additionally, we know that the younger generations, particularly Gen Z, are leaving stigmas at the door—whether it’s mental health or sexuality. These two shifts together are allowing proactive reproductive health education to emerge as a normalized and even empowered part of life.
Try asking your partner: “I’m interested intaking more control over more parts of my health—can we look into fertility testing together?”
I see the increased accessibility of semen analysis as a transformative step in helping people with sperm play a greater role in the fertility equation. And that’s one of the best things we can do for people with ovaries.
About the author
Nataki Douglas, MD, PhD is a Reproductive Endocrinologist and Infertility Specialist and the Chair of the Modern Fertility Medical Advisory Board, where she oversees all clinical product development and research. Dr. Douglas is currently Director of Translational Research for the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Health at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. Dr. Douglas’s translational research explores the uterine microenvironment that supports embryo implantation and healthy pregnancy outcomes, including the practical applications of ovarian reserve testing with reproductive hormones.