Male Fertility Tests: Paranoia or a Positive Step?
For the first time in the UK, men will be able to check their own fertility with the launch of an at-home fertility test, something the makers hope will make men take greater responsibility for their own fertility and sexual health.
The test, called SpermCheck, went on sale in Boots stores throughout the UK this past weekend. For the small sum of £29.99 ($48.24), British men can test to see if they have what is considered a normal or below normal sperm count in the privacy of their own home.
The test works by users of SpermCheck mixing a sample of their semen in a solution provided in the kit. They then place six drops of the liquid on a reader which looks very much like a home pregnancy test. The reader tests for a protein called SP-1o that is only found among mature sperm. The test looks for a concentration of about 20 million sperm per millimeter. While there are a lot of measures for fertility, this is one such benchmark the World Health Organization uses. After about ten minutes, the test will display two little red lines if that concentration is present. If not, only one red line is displayed.
Though the test claims to have a verified 98% accuracy, users have to remember that the test isn’t capable of a comprehensive check for sperm health and so can only be used as an indicator of a more obvious fertility issue. That said, just because men may have a fertility rate that fails this test it doesn’t necessarily mean they cannot father a child and further medical advice should be sought for confirmation and to explore further fertility options.
The makers behind SpermCheck are billing this as a way to ease the pressure on women who often times are the ones who are the first ones to check their fertility. Such tests are already available in the United States and Canada where, the company says, they have found a sizable market.
SpermCheck chief executive Ray Lopez is quoted as saying: “With this test we can truly help couples suffering from infertility. A lot of the time, the woman is the one who is burdened with finding out what is wrong, but the reality of the situation is that in 40% to 60% of cases, male factor infertility is to blame.”
It is estimated that about one in every six UK couples will have problems conceiving a child, with low sperm or poor sperm quality thought to play a role in about a fifth of cases.
As such, it sounds like the at-home fertility test for men is fulfilling what could be a real need. However, some people are skeptical. Here’s why.
Are Global Male Fertility Rates Really Declining?
One issue is that this kind of test could feed into a paranoia surrounding male fertility rates.
Many readers will no doubt have heard of several reports of studies purporting to show that male fertility is undergoing a decline. For instance, a recent lede from the Daily Mail says “male sperm counts around the world have more than halved in the past 50 years.” This sounds like all the evidence is in, and the matter settled. However, that’s not quite true.
One of the key analyses to suggest this was a 1992 paper that we’ll refer to as the Carlsen study(.pdf). The analysis looked at 61 research papers dating back to 1938 and concluded that the average sperm count had dropped by 42%. Further research has appeared to support this finding.
Yet, since then a number of problems with the study’s methodology have been found suggesting its conclusions may be flawed. Furthermore, no research since this time has conclusively proved the hypothesis that male fertility rates are globally declining. There is evidence to suggest a regional decline in quality of sperm, with a possible cause being lifestyle and, in particular, rising obesity which has a known causal link to a fall in male fertility, but as yet there is nothing firm on which to build a definite answer to the question of whether male fertility is nosediving. That’s not to say this isn’t the case, but simply that it’s premature to suggest the decline is a known fact.
As a result, the SpermCheck may be seen as a product that could risk feeding into fertility paranoia — and indeed a paranoia that women have already had to deal with for a number of years. As this comment piece from the Telegraph suggests, rather than being empowering, this product may be perceived as yet another attempt to sell us something we don’t really need. Still, this view might be a little cynical.
The Benefits of a Male Fertility Test
For men who might be worried about low or compromised fertility, the product offers an obvious benefit by eliminating what for some might be an embarrassing, even daunting, first trip to the doctor.
For any responsible male partner, the test also provides a simple and relatively inexpensive way for them to take a first investigative step if they feel they and their female partner may be having a problem conceiving.
The makers of SpermCheck are also right that the test offers an opportunity for men to shoulder some of the burden of investigating their fertility and general sexual health, taking some of the responsibility off their female partner.
So while there is a risk that for the vast majority of men, this product is not really crucial but could feed into fears surrounding male fertility, the test certainly is not a frivolous product for those with real concerns. As such, the SpermCheck test offers men a discreet first step to inquiring about their fertility and therein taking control of their reproductive health.
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