New research proves that it’s not just women who can’t keep putting off parenthood by Barbara Ellen
Research from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School confirms that male fertility declines with age. It takes longer for older men to get women pregnant and there’s more chance of miscarriage. It isn’t simply a case of lower mobility – as sperm ages, it gathers more DNA damage and there is a higher chance of children developing conditions such as autism or ADHD.
So while women’s eggs wane in number and viability, sperm quality also seems to decline with age. Basically, it’s a warning that both sexes need to heed their biological clocks. Which may be where the sexes part company. There can’t be many women left out there who, if they’re interested in becoming mothers, haven’t heard all about their perma-ticking bodies. Sometimes, it feels as though it’s all that women ever hear about.
It’s men who should be paying the most attention, particularly those who mistakenly believe that there’s no time limit on their fertility and that, even when they’re middle aged, they have the option of getting together with younger fertile women and starting families.
While this happens – there are enough famous examples – it may not be as commonplace as previously thought. And if a man does have age-related fertility issues, just as with older females who “miss the boat”, accrued wealth or status isn’t going to mean much, unless you count being able to afford multiple rounds of costly IVF.
All of which sounds logical enough. If both sexes accept other signs of ageing, why on earth would anyone, male or female, somehow optimistically expect their reproductive organs to keep functioning at the same level?
The difference is that most women, unless they’ve been living in a secluded cave in the Outer Hebrides, know this by now, but for some men it may come as a surprise. Not just in terms of the new biological information, but also how it changes the ongoing cultural conversation surrounding fertility between the sexes.
Men can no longer take it for granted that they have all the time in the world to have children. They can’t keep putting off fatherhood without factoring in what could be their diminishing sperm quality and what consequences that could have in terms of, say, conception, or the child’s health. They can’t presume that, after finally settling down, they can get a younger partner pregnant easily or that having children as younger men proves anything about their later fertility.
Nor can they persist with this denigrating stereotype of the mid-to-late-thirtysomething “female desperado” who is anxious to snaffle a similarly aged solvent male and railroad him into fatherhood. If it’s a baby these women want, they would have more chance of conceiving with a younger male, as, indeed, would younger women.
This isn’t a case of “Ha,ha, men – male fertility declines too”. But it is a bio-cultural game-changer. For too long, women have been almost the sole focus for waning fertility – eternally criticised, blamed, even ridiculed, for leaving things too late. Women have had to navigate not only harsh biological fact, but also a sneering, judgmental society that berates their “mismanaged” life choices.
What this study suggests is that some men, if they’re not careful, could also be in danger of leaving it too late and that declining male fertility has been a major overlooked part of the debate. Right now, men are only experiencing what women long have – their biological clocks being examined and found wanting.
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