Male pride could be causing older women to miss out on IVF, experts warn

  • 25 per cent of UK couples who opt against IVF do so because a partner objects
  • Average couple tries five years after start of fertility problems before taking IVF
  • This is in spite of the fact that chances of pregnancy often drop after two years
  • ‘Male pride’ is suggested as one reason many older women miss out on children

Older women are missing out on having children because their partners refuse to accept they need IVF, experts have warned.

Male pride, which prevents men accepting problems such as low sperm counts, and their failure to understand women’s ticking biological clocks may be part of the reason.

A quarter of people who decide against fertility treatment have a partner who would rather keep trying to conceive naturally, according to a study.

That rises to 40 per cent in the UK, where the average couple keeps trying for more than five years after learning they have a fertility problem – the odds of becoming pregnant fall significantly after two years of trying unsuccessfully.

The international study looked at both male and female partners who wanted to keep trying for a child, but British fertility experts say the pressure to do this typically comes from men.

Stuart Lavery, a consultant in reproductive medicine at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: ‘We often see women who just want to get on with IVF, while men still think they can have a child naturally.

‘It doesn’t help that people are generally having children later, so men may wrongly think they can keep trying for years.’

Mr Lavery, who was not involved in the study but presented a separate analysis of UK data to the recent Fertility 2022 conference, added: ‘In 40 per cent of cases, couples can’t conceive because of a male fertility issue.

‘But men can struggle to accept this, which may possibly put IVF on hold. There is also a kind of misplaced nobility, where men don’t want their partner to go through stressful and painful treatment.’

Professor Jacky Boivin from Cardiff University, senior author of the study which is published in the journal Reproductive Biomedicine Online, said: ‘We see a lot of men who feel if they have more sex, or drink or smoke less, they can fix the problem and keep trying naturally. Men who aren’t ready for IVF can mean a lifetime of regret for women who miss their chance and end up not being able to have children.’

It is estimated around one in seven couples in the UK suffer from fertility problems, but many do not seek treatment – evidence suggests around 45 per cent do not have a single appointment to discuss their options for IVF.

Mr Lavery added: ‘Couples not on the same timeline when it comes to IVF can suffer much more stress. Where one partner is not as keen, it can impact relationships and contribute to break-ups.’

The international study questioned people under the age of 50 diagnosed with infertility from nine countries, including the UK, US, France, Germany and Italy.

Among the 123 patients who did not have a single IVF consultation, 19.5 per cent said this was because ‘my partner was determined to conceive naturally’. That rose to 23.3 per cent among 103 patients who had a consultation about IVF but did not go ahead.

Almost 30 per cent said their partner was not as keen as them to have a child ‘by any means necessary’. Some of the patients getting fertility treatment were men, but two-thirds were women.

The figures from the UK subset of 201 people, including 27 patients and partners who failed to start fertility treatment after a consultation, show 40 per cent of these had an other half who was determined to conceive naturally.

It takes more than six years and nine months for the average infertile couple in the UK to have a child – more than five years of trying and 18 months of treatment.

by Victoria Allen

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