Men’s Fertility Fears Spawn a Mini Industry by Robbie Whelan
The print version of this article has a different heading than the online version for some reason.
(Link): Men’s Fertility Fears Spawn a Mini Industry by R Whelan
Sept 10, 2021
A crop of companies aims to make sperm-freezing a routine procedure for young men, as employers start to offer it as a benefit.
[Article opens with the example of a 39 year old man who had medical issues, so he got some of his sperm frozen]
…. For decades, the conversation about waning fertility has been focused largely on women.
… Recently, a small group of biotech startups have hatched, dedicated to what they say is an underserved market: male fertility.
Armed with recent scientific research suggesting that the quality of sperm is declining in the West, the companies are trying to make sperm-freezing a routine procedure for young, healthy men, one covered by health insurance and free of stigma.
“My fundamental belief is that if the product is affordable, this should be a no-brainer for every man,” says Khaled Kteily, the 32-year old founder of Legacy Inc., one of the companies that Mr. Alam used to freeze his sperm.
The push to make a case for its business is starting to catch on. The company recently struck a deal to eventually provide free sperm testing and storage to all active duty service members in the U.S. military with the Navy SEALS…
Since its founding in 2018, the company has sent out more than 5,000 kits and expanded into fertility and lifestyle counseling.
… A host of recent research suggests that men’s reproductive health plays a bigger role in reproduction than previously thought.
In 2017, a metastudy that examined data from semen samples provided by roughly 42,000 men and was published in the journal Human Reproductive Update, came to a worrisome conclusion: Between 1973 and 2011, sperm counts in men in western countries fell 52%, from an average of about 99 million cells per milliliter of semen to about 47 million.
A reading of below 40 million sperm cells per milliliter indicates that a man is “subfertile,” meaning that conceiving a child will take longer than average.
The rapid rate of decline raises fears that if men’s fertility continues to fall, sperm preservation will be the only option for men who don’t have children during their prime years, before age 35, says Shanna Swan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York…
“It’s a global crisis, and sperm count is the canary in the coal mine,” Dr. Swan says, noting that young people are waiting longer to have families and environmental factors such as chemical pollutants can reduce women’s fertility.
Other recent research has raised additional concerns about the fragility of men’s fertility.
This year, an American Society of Reproductive Medicine metastudy that examined 77,000 cases of in vitro fertilization found that when controlled for a mother’s age, sperm from men over the age of 45 had a lower chance of causing a pregnancy using IVF.
Still, this message doesn’t seem to have resonated with men, especially younger men, says William Matthews, a former executive at Playboy Enterprises and founder of Fellow, another sperm-testing and storage startup.
“We have a system in place where women start going to a gynecologist in their teens, but for me, fertility and infertility are sort of hidden topics,” says Marcia Inhorn, a medical anthropologist at Yale University who studies reproduction and fertility.
If marriage age continues to rise in the U.S., and more scientific study is done on men’s role in reproduction, it could encourage men to learn more about their own fertility and perhaps make use of services like sperm-freezing…
Still, this won’t happen overnight.
“It would have to be more and more women delaying childbearing until their late 30s, and having children with partners slightly older, on a large scale, in order for this issue to capture more of men’s attention,” Mr. Gray [anthropologist at University of Nevada, Las Vegas] says.
… Legacy hopes that large corporations will start paying for men to freeze their sperm too.
Another target market for Legacy is transgender people. A 26-year-old software engineer woman from Seattle, who uses they as a pronoun, is taking feminizing hormones as part of their transition. They found out from a doctor that after six months of hormone therapy, they would likely be infertile.
They have long wanted to have a daughter, so they stored a sperm sample with Legacy for five years.
“My fertility is going down as we speak because I started transitioning, which was an emotional and physical priority for me,” they say.
… “This subject is a black box for a lot of society,” says Ramy Ghayda, a urologist and Legacy’s chief medical officer. “We’re trying to shatter all the taboos surrounding male fertility.”