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ISSUE 118 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/25/2005

Tick-tock

By Jennifer Hancock
Staff Writer


Friday, February 25, 2005

The majority of individuals in their early twenties - in other words, most St. Olaf students - are not terribly worried about their fertility. Sexually active twentysomethings are more concerned with conception prevention than their future procreative potential. Every few months , however, I spot an article in a women’s magazine with a caution-inducing title implying that women who wait until their thirties to have children are sure to have fertility problems. For women with career ambitions who also want to have a family these articles can be very, very frightening. Even a woman in her early twenties can be intimidated into feeling that her biological clock is tick-tick-ticking away.

Indeed, it seems that despite the progress society has made in the way of women’s rights, fertility continues to be viewed as (solely) a women’s problem. I must admit that, to some extent, the mounting incidence of fertility issues can be “blamed” on women. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that approximately 6.1 million women in the United States were infertile in 2000, compared with about 4.9 million in 1988, and the most common reason cited for this increase in infertility is the tendency of women to delay childbearing.

A woman’s ability to become pregnant does decrease with age. Her fertility peaks in her mid-twenties, and at about 35, her age may begin to incite fertility problems. In addition, after age 35, the risk of miscarriage becomes greater. So should women flee from the workplace back into the home if they hope to have children?

Probably not. Although age contributes to female infertility in a more direct way than it contributes to male infertility, the much-publicized fear that women are delaying childbirth too long is, quite frankly, blown completely out of proportion. The truth is that in two out of every five couples with infertility, the male is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of the infertility, and in two out of every five couples, the female is the sole cause or a contributing cause of the infertility. Thus, in many cases, the male or both partners contribute to a couple’s inability to conceive.

Male infertility, as I said previously, is not linked to age in the same way it is with women. We have all heard of instances in which 70 year-old men who havefathered children with much younger women. However, before all you males out there decide you are safe from fertility problems, read this: A 2002 study at the University of Washington revealed that the motility (movement) of sperm decreases after a male hits 35.

But never fear and certainly don’t start making babies now, unless you’re prepared for such an undertaking. A healthy lifestyle will keep the little swimmers ready for action when the time comes. Here are a few common-sense tips to maintaining male fertility:

-Quit smoking. That means cigarettes and marijuana. Tobacco can cause low sperm counts and slow sperm motility. Long-term use of marijuana also results in low sperm count and abnormally developed sperm.

-Lay off the bottle. Liquor can lead to the formation of abnormal sperm.

-Stay away from toxins and poisons like pesticides, insecticides, radiation and lead.

-Have safe sex. Sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and chlamydia can cause scarring that leads to male infertility.

-Boxers or briefs? Most people have heard the rumor that briefs can cause male infertility. There is no scientific evidence to prove that this is a fact, but since briefs are tighter, they make things a little hotter down there, and not in a good way. The testicles are in the scrotum (outside the body proper) because sperm must be made at 0.8 degrees centigrade cooler than body temperature. Tight clothing, hot baths and saunas could cause lower sperm counts because the testes may get too hot.

There is definitely no reason for anyone, male or female, to rush into parenthood out of fear of infertility. Most of us are ready to become parents on a physical level when we are teenagers, but that does not mean that we are prepared psychologically for parenthood. In short, I am obviously not encouraging immediate action. However, both males and females who want to have children should know the factors that may contribute to their inability to do so. And all certainly should know that infertility is not just a woman’s problem.

– Any questions or comments may be sent to sexcolumnist@stolaf.edu.





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