Gender Bias with Infertility

Even on Facebook, fertility is highly gendered. Participation in women’s support groups can number in the tens of thousands while men’s groups have less than 1,700.

In the absence of a health care model that draws men in, forums and online resources are a key source of solace and information.

Friends often don’t know how to deal with the situation and friendships can evaporate under the pressure. In contrast, men who are in the same boat know what it feels like to be infertile.

At a meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, a psychologist from Baltimore named William Petok advised a gathering of therapists on how to appeal to male clients and get them to open up. Appointment times should be convenient, he said, and counsellors should adjust their language and terminology, swapping out “feelings” for “thoughts.” Petok also recommended neutral décor for the consultation room. “You can’t have a lot of lace or pink,” he said. It’s hard to persuade men to come to therapy, he explained, and when they come as part of a couple, women do most of the talking. About 50 psychologists sat attentively in the windowless room. Most of them were women, which aptly illustrated another of Petok’s key points — a lack of male voices coming forward to talk about infertility.

To better serve men, clinicians say it’s important to recognize that boys and men have been raised with different expectations about visiting the doctor. Throughout their lives, men interact less with health care providers than women, a pattern set as young as five years old, when parents start bringing their sons less often to the doctor. This sets a trend that scientists have found lowers men’s life expectancies. By living sicker and dying younger, men steeply increase the financial burden of global health.

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