Jimmy Fallon. Hugh Jackman. Mark Zuckerberg. Keith Urban. Gordon Ramsey. Kyle Busch. Besides immediate name recognition, what else do these men have in common? They’ve all struggled with fertility issues—and it’s something they’re all talking about publicly. In a world that still overlooks men in the fertility conversation, despite the fact that a full 40% of issues can be traced to the male partner, that’s no small thing. We’re used to female celebrities and women as a whole sharing their fertility experiences, good and bad, but it remains unusual for men—even though it shouldn’t be.
Jimmy Fallon and his wife Nancy Juvonen spent, as she puts it, “five years of really, really, really, really, really deciding not to give up.” They unsuccessfully pursued IVF and other treatments multiple times, but failed to conceive. The couple ultimately welcomed their first daughter, Winnie Rose, with the help of both IVF and surrogacy. Daughter Frances followed one and a half years later, also via surrogacy.
For Hugh Jackman and his wife Deborra-Lee Furness, the path to parenthood was just as rocky. Their fertility struggles led to them multiple rounds of IVF, and heartbreakingly, multiple miscarriages. It opened Jackman’s eyes to the secrecy of miscarriage, which is still so rarely discussed. “But it’s a good thing to talk about,” he told People. “It’s more common and it’s tough, there’s a grieving process you have to go through. The couple ultimately become parents to Oscar Maximillian and Ava Eliot through adoption.
Mark Zuckerberg shared his fertility issues via social media post back in 2015. The couple had also experienced three miscarriages in what Zuckerberg called “a lonely experience. Most people don’t discuss miscarriages because you worry your problems will distance you or reflect upon you — as if you’re defective or did something to cause this.”
Kyle and Samantha Busch navigated PCOS and low sperm count before, and the couple is upfront about the isolation and embarrassment they felt trying their struggle to conceive. Between Beli and IVF, they welcomed son Brexton.
The fact that these men stand out for speaking up indicates a problem with how society talks about miscarriage and fertility issues, and it’s one we’re working to change. In that spirit, here are four things worth understanding about male fertility issues.
It’s Wise to Start with a Semen Analysis
There’s an erroneous belief that if a man can successfully ejaculate, he must be fertile. Nope! A sperm analysis is a simple but incredibly useful way to check for functional sperm. Remember, sperm health parameters include:
- Sperm count. This is the number or concentration of sperm cells in a given amount of semen. Normal semen contains 40 million to 300 million sperm per milliliter. A low sperm count is anything between 10 and 20 million sperm per milliliter (though 20 million sperm per milliliter may be enough for pregnancy if the sperm are healthy). Low sperm count can be the result of previous medical problems, age, environmental factors, and especially lifestyle choices. If you smoke or use recreational drugs, be clear that these habits can affect your fertility.
- Sperm morphology. Normal sperm have egg-shaped heads and long tails, which they use to “swim” to the egg. The more normal-shaped sperm you have, the easier it is for them to reach your partner’s egg.
- Sperm motility. A critical function of healthy sperm cells is their ability to swim, i.e. motility. Sperm motility is measured as the percentage of moving sperm cells in a sample of semen. Sperm with forward progressions of at least 25 micrometers per second are defined as healthy.
A sperm analysis can be incredibly illuminating, offering insight into all of these parameters. And hey, knowledge is power! By knowing where you stand, you can take steps to support and nourish sperm health for the greatest chances of a successful conception and healthy pregnancy.
You Can Improve Sperm Quality with Lifestyle Choices
Couples hoping to become parents are universally advised to embrace a healthy lifestyle. We have a list outlining 11 ways to support men’s fertility, and from top to bottom, the idea is living clean. That means regular exercise, a nutritious diet, effectively managing stress, and generally making your health a priority. Fertility health is so often reflected in your overall health, so consider it a useful benchmark.
It’s Best to Keep it Cool
And by “it,” we mean your testicles. Hear us out! Sperm need a stable temperature that’s roughly four degrees cooler than the body to maintain optimal health. When temperatures tick upward, decreased motility begins to creep in. In fact, prolonged exposure to heat is associated with low sperm counts and reduced pregnancy rates (1), so it’s best to avoid hot tubs and saunas, heat from laptops or electronics, tight boxers or shorts for long periods of time, and cycling. Of course, the key here is to keep things in moderation, so if you can’t see yourself giving up the bike, just make sure to take regular breaks.
Men Have a Biological Clock, Too
We hear about men having children in the 70s and 80s (hello, Robert De Niro and Al Pacino), but male fertility is just as susceptible to aging as female fertility. While a man’s ability to produce sperm isn't necessarily affected, the quality of that sperm certainly is. What’s more, the offspring of older fathers are at a greater risk of birth defects and developmental disorders (2). There’s also a greater likelihood of miscarriage, regardless of a partner’s age, health and risk factors.
The Bottom Line
Here at Beli, we’re working hard to remove the stigma and raise awareness about the role of sperm health for hopeful parents-to-be. It’s a core tenet of our mission, after all, and it’s how Beli came to be. We applaud men in prominent, public-facing positions for sharing their stories about fertility issues. Together, we’re making progress in the fertility conversation—it’s a place where men’s voices deserve to be heard.
- Garolla, A et al. (2013). Seminal and molecular evidence that sauna exposure affects human spermatogenesis. https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/28/4/877/653255?login=false
- Phillips, N et al. (2019). Maternal, infant and childhood risks associated with advanced paternal age: the need for comprehensive counseling for men. https://www.maturitas.org/article/S0378-5122(19)30134-3/fulltext
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This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Beli.