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Male Infertility Crisis in US Has Experts Baffled

ILLUSTRATION: Riki Blanco/Newsweek

By Bryan Walsh | 12 September 2017

NEWSWEEK — Hagai Levine doesn’t scare easily. The Hebrew University public health researcher is the former chief epidemiologist for the Israel Defense Forces, which means he’s acquainted with danger and risk in a way most of his academic counterparts aren’t. So when he raises doubts about the future of the human race, it’s worth listening. Together with Shanna Swan, a professor of environmental medicine and public health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Levine authored a major new analysis that tracked male sperm levels over the past few decades, and what he found frightened him. “Reproduction may be the most important function of any species,” says Levine. “Something is very wrong with men.”

That’s something you may not be used to hearing. It may take a man and a woman—or at least a sperm and an egg—to form new life, but it is women who bear the medical and psychological burden of trying to get—and stay—pregnant. It is women whose lifestyle choices are endlessly dissected for their supposed impact on fertility, and women who hear the ominous tick of the biological clock. Women are bombarded with countless fertility diets, special fertility-boosting yoga practices and all the fertility apps they can fit on their phone. They are the targets of a fertility industry expected to be valued at more than $21 billion globally by 2020. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention fixates on women, tracking infertility in the U.S. by tallying the number of supposedly infertile women. “It is as if the entire medical realm is shaped to cater to women’s infertility and women’s bodies,” says Liberty Barnes, a sociologist and the author of Conceiving Masculinity: Male Infertility, Medicine, and Identity. “For men, there’s just nothing there.”

That absence might be understandable if women were solely responsible for the success or failure of a pregnancy. But they’re not. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the male partner is either the sole or contributing cause in about 40 percent of cases of infertility. Past infections, medical conditions, hormonal imbalances and more can all cause what is known as male factor infertility. Men even have their own version of a biological clock. Beginning around their mid-30s, male fertility gradually degrades, and while most men produce sperm to their dying day, those past 40 who help conceive have a greater risk of passing on genetic abnormalities to their children, including autism. “Men are a huge part of this problem,” says Barbara Collura, the president and CEO of Resolve: the National Infertility Association. […]

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