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The Silence Around Male Infertility

 An illustration of a Black man walking down the street in a suit. He is surrounded by other faceless people, all colored in purples and pinks, and he is looking down and off to the side at someone pushing a stroller with a toddler in it. There is a spotlight on this man, highlighting his purple figure in yellow.
Charnel Hunter

About half of all infertility cases involve male fertility issues. Yet reproductive spaces are often dominated by women — and the male perspective goes unheard. 

An infertility diagnosis can send some cis men down a dark path where their sense of self is shaken. Despite how common this experience is, men are often left without resources and community with other men to help navigate this challenging time.

Host Anita Rao talks with journalist Jared Wright about his own fertility journey that inspired a story for VICE. Jared and his wife started trying for a baby when they got married in 2020 and are currently undergoing treatments. But in speaking with other Black men going through similar experiences, he found a lack of dialogue and a lack of resources.

Urologist Dr. Paul Shin joins the conversation to offer insight into the wide range of different causes and treatments for male infertility. Paul shares how men tend to not engage with the medical system in the same ways women do until they receive an infertility diagnosis and the importance of getting tested for early detection and intervention.

Anita also talks with James D’Souza, a teacher and writer based in the U.K., about the decision to stop pursuing parenthood after a ten year fertility journey with his wife. He shares his perspectives on redefining success and masculinity for himself in hopes of bringing attention to overlooked stories and inspiring others to make healthy choices.

Thanks to Alex of Pursuing Fatherhood, Brandon Johnson and Jon Summers of Infertility Man for their contributions to this episode.

Please note: This episode originally aired June 16, 2023.

Updates: 
Jared Wright: “Unfortunately we have had a couple of unsuccessful embryo transfers since the airing of the show, and we will be going through a couple of more cycles this year.”

James D’Souza: “I have a couple of updates: [I’m] now four years cancer-free [and] I'm learning to skateboard. My point is - life goes on and it's what we make it.”

What stands in the way of men talking about infertility?

“I think men who are dealing with fertility and infertility confront their masculinity in a way that no other man does … I questioned myself. Am I a man if I can't have children?”
-James D’Souza, writer and teacher

“Women have menstrual cycles … they get used to going to see the gynecologist on a regular basis. There's a comfort level with talking about reproduction that just doesn't exist for men. For a lot of my guys, their first real engagement with the medical system is an infertility diagnosis and it's devastating on so many different levels.”
-Dr. Paul Shin, urologist at Shady Grove Fertility

“I had asked my urologist when he saw that again that I had zero sperm, and I needed to have a couple of procedures in order to hopefully retrieve some sperm … ‘Are there any resources for Black men or men who are dealing with this? Is there something I can read?’ And my urologist, who was great, but he just said, ‘No, not that I know of.’”
-Jared Wright, journalist

Paige Perez (she/her) is a Caribbean-American audio and photojournalist born and raised in Brooklyn, NY. Her work covering sexual and reproductive health, the climate crisis, and racial inequity is published in The Guardian, HuffPost Voices, and Bronx Times. Paige is a recent graduate of the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, where she concentrated in health/science reporting and specialized in audio and video. When she is not reporting and producing, she is probably visiting local art spaces or making images.
Anita Rao is an award-winning journalist, host, creator, and executive editor of "Embodied," a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships & health.