Dr. Zhang’s Pick of the Month: The Difference Between Impotency and Male Infertility

Pick of the Month (3)Two key issues in men’s sexual and reproductive health are impotency and male fertility. Although the terms are occasionally used interchangeably, impotence and male infertility are distinct medical conditions. For both conditions, quality male care is available. About one third of the time, a couple’s inability to get pregnant can be attributed to the male partner.

There are three main categories that encapsulate male infertility.  First has to do with sperm morphology, or the attributes of the sperm themselves.  These are low sperm count, low quality, and low motility (movement).  The second category is surrounding the complete lack of sperm production.  And the third category includes reasons why a man might not be able to ejaculate, even though he can produce sperm.

Outside of those three categories, a man may be evaluated for impotency.  Impotency is a man’s inability to achieve and maintain a penile erection to perform sexual intercourse. This condition is also referred to as erectile dysfunction (ED). For a man to achieve and maintain an erection, several systems in the body must work together, including the nervous system and cardiovascular system. Should any of these systems be compromised, achieving and maintaining an erection becomes difficult. Impotency is often the result of the following health issues: heart disease or other vascular issues, emotional or mental health issues such as depression, stress, diabetes, high blood pressure, medications, obesity, abuse of drugs or alcohol, nerve damage.  While the condition does make it difficult for a man to have sex, it does not mean that a man is unable to produce sperm to conceive a child. A man can produce healthy sperm even if he is impotent.

A man’s fertility describes his ability to produce quality sperm in quantities able to fertilize an egg. If a couple has tried to get pregnant for more than one year, they are deemed to be infertile and should seek medical treatment. In one of three cases, both the male and female partners are impacted by fertility issues. A number of things cause infertility in men, including: Treatment for cancer, chronic diseases such as diabetes, alcohol or drug abuse, untreated sexually transmitted diseases, abnormalities in the male reproductive organs, genetic issues, injury to the male reproductive organs, illness experienced as a child with a high temperature.

Infertility is often thought of as a women’s issue.  Many women are familiar with infertility and the emotions that accompany not being able to conceive on your own.  However, many men aren’t and find themselves ill equipped to deal with the psychological effects.  Our culture, too, is not very good at being supportive to men with these issues.  We recommend that if you are struggling, first keep communicating about your situation and your feelings.  Confide in a therapist, your partner, and most of all, a reproductive specialist.  Also, communicate about everything else in life too!  Keeping conversation fresh will help lower stress and raise your confidence.  Enjoy life!  An infertility diagnosis isn’t the end of the world.  Find a support group!  Groups may remind men that they are not alone and allow them to speak with others in a similar situation.  Finally, get healthy and stay healthy!  Fitness and nutrition can only help your situation and your mood.

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