Top male fertility myths, debunked

Men, it turns out your body clocks are ticking, too. These are the top male fertility myths and how to improve your chances of fatherhood as you age.

When actor Robert De Niro welcomed his seventh child — daughter Gia — a few months shy of his 80th birthday, it made headlines around the world.

But he wasn’t the only famous octogenarian taking on nappy duty in 2023.

De Niro’s Godfather co-star, Al Pacino, 83, also became a father (for the fourth time), while ex-Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone became a dad four times over at the age of 89 in 2020.

Melbourne IVF scientific director and Virtus Health’s group director of ART, scientific innovation and research, Professor David Gardner, says these stories of older fathers can lull many men into the false sense of security that they can become dads at any age.

But that isn’t always the case.

These are the top male fertility myths we need to stop believing.

Myth 1: Fertility doesn’t decline with age

It turns out men’s biological clocks are ticking, too.

“When you look at the statistics, by the time a man is 35, his fertility is half what it was at 25,” Prof Gardner says.

“And when you get to over 40, sperm health and the stem cells that make sperm have acquired much damage over life, leading to compromised sperm DNA integrity.

“So, what we know is that for fathers over 40, they are associated with much higher miscarriage rates.

“The other thing is there is a higher risk of autism spectrum disorders — in fact, it’s six times higher in fathers over 40 and it continues to increase with age.

“So it’s not just about the fact you can father a child, it’s really a question of: When’s the best time to father a child that can be healthy?”

Myth 2: Physical health doesn’t affect male fertility

People who are overweight, drink heavily, smoke or use recreational drugs could be putting their long-term fertility in jeopardy.

Prof Gardner says there is also evidence that exposure to plastics can affect fertility and urges people to avoid drinking out of disposable bottles and cups.

“The staggering findings that have come out now is that over the last 50 years, sperm counts worldwide — in every country and every continent — has gone down by 50 per cent,” he says.

“And it’s not just the numbers, it’s the quality, too. So clearly, this is correlated to the changes in our lifestyle and also the environmental exposure to plastics, et cetera.

“So, that’s the bad news. The good news is once you realise what’s causing the problem, you can rectify it.”

Myth 3: Fertility is just a female issue

Given the decline in fertility, Prof Gardner believes changes need to be made in how we approach sex education.

“When we were teenagers, we were taught how not to get pregnant and about safe sex — and quite rightly so — but no one actually told you anything other than that,” he says.

“The downside is that a lot of people come away from that into their 20s and their 30s thinking that if they don’t have protected sex, they will get pregnant right away.

“What we need to educate people about, even at that level, is yes, safe sex is important, but maintaining your fertility is equally as important.”

Prof Gardner also recommends people in their 20s have fertility tests to be aware of any potential challenges early.

“When you have children, you would do everything you possibly can for them, so rather than wait for them to be born to do that, why not invest in their health and future now?”

Male fertility facts

  • Male fertility declines rapidly after 55
  • 1 in 6 couples will experience infertility
  • If you are over 35 and have been trying to conceive for more than 6months without success, see a doctor.
  • Sperm health is assessed by three factors, quantity, shape and movement.
  • Heat can effect sperm. Wear loose fitting clothing and avoid hot baths and spas if you are trying to conceive.

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Written by Siobhan Duck.