news item: savory and sweet a taste for infertility

The headline and brief blurb of the article are what pulled me in to read it: “taste cells found in testicles” and I knew I had to click the link and read more. What does that say about my reading interests? Well, never-you-mind.

What kept me reading was that this article was talking about the worldwide decline in male fertility and some new research that found a link between,

Some of the same genes that allow us to sense sweet and umami flavors are also active in a man’s testes and sperm. According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Tuesday, suppressing these genes may affect not only his ability to taste but also his ability to reproduce.

Scientists engineered the specific human genes  that control taste receptors and the proteins that relay those tastes to our brain into mice. They then deactivated them to see what would happen. Surprise of all surprises, the male mice became completely, 100%, sterile.

This is another link in figuring out the puzzle that is the decline of male fertility. Recently, at a gathering of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, the topic of a potential “sperm crisis[1]” was the subject of an entire day of this annual meeting.

Geneticist Bedrich Monsinger, who lead the team in this research, says “there is a worldwide decline in male fertility…We speculate that there is something in the environment causing this.”

Monsinger references specifically prescription drugs that have known side effects of blocking the gene controlling our taste receptors and also some commonly used herbicides.

This article, and the one referenced in the footnote below, are interesting to me as they bring to the forefront an often forgotten or ignored aspect of the fertility equation, and that is male infertility,  male subfertility, and the impact of ‘environmental factors’ on all aspects of fertility.

Check out Savory and Sweet: A Taste For Infertility, and also the Wall Street Journal article referenced in the footnote. Tell us what you think, what you found interesting, or any related news or blog this reminds you of. Below are some suggested prompts, but please don’t restrain your comments to just these questions.

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At the end of the news article, the author spins the story away from issues of male fertility and talks about the research’s possible application to rodent birth control. Does this diminish the story for you? Does it do a disservice to those trying to remove the stigma of male infertility from our culture?

Research has shown clinical proof of environmental factors affecting sperm counts and function. Has this changed your lifestyle in any way? 

Were you offered a semen analysis as part of your initial fertility workup?

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PAIL headshotChandra is a Mom and Foster Mom. She holds a Master’s degree in Theology and is particularly interested in the theology of infertility. Chandra grew up in the Northeast but she and her husband are raising their daughter in the middle-of-nowhere Indiana. She has 3 chickens that drive her crazy, a huge garden, and a penchant for bacon. She occasionally attempts to make sense of all those things, and more, over at her blog, MetholicBlog. She also shares embarrassing stories about her husband and unicorns.


[1]“The Decline in Male Fertility”, by Shirley S. Wang, The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323394504578607641775723354.html

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news item: Latest IVF Scare: ICSI and Intellectual Disabilities

The news was full of dramatic headlines about the results of the latest IVF study last week. This study, the first to compare IVF treatments and the risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in children, found that ICSI was associated with an increased risk of intellectual disability and autism in children.

Researchers analyzed over 2.5 million Swedish birth records and compared those born via IVF with those conceived naturally. Here’s the data:

  • 1.2% or 30,959 children were born via IVF
  • Of the 6959 children diagnosed with autism, 103 were born via IVF
  • Of the 15,830 with intellectual disability, 180 were born via IVF

The Good News

While there does not appear to be an increased risk for autism for children born from IVF, there is a small increased risk of intellectual disability for children born from IVF: about 47 in 100,000 infants born from IVF compared to 40 in 100,000 for those conceived naturally. Unsurprisingly, this increase disappeared when researchers factored in multiple births.

The Bad News

More concerning, however, was what the researchers found when they compared outcomes by IVF procedures: fresh embryos, frozen embryos, ICSI, and if ICSI was used, how the sperm was obtained (surgically or ejaculated).  The researchers found that children born from IVF utilizing ICSI (regardless of fresh or frozen embryos) were at a 51% increased risk of intellectual disability (62 to 93 births out of 100,000). Even when the researchers adjusted for pre-term and multiple births, IVF using ICSI and fresh embryos was still associated with an increased risk of intellectual disability.

The news outlets are interpreting these findings as a much-needed reminder that male-factor infertility exists and could have ramifications for couples to consider since ICSI began as a treatment for male infertility.  What many of the articles ignore is that clinical usage of ICSI has expanded beyond male-factor infertility to be used for many patients undergoing IVF. My husband does not have male-factor infertility, but our eggs were fertilized using ICSI during both of our fresh IVF cycles because, as this article notes, ICSI works.

The problem is that injecting the sperm into the egg bypasses the “survival of the fittest” process most sperm have to go through to fertilize an egg. I’m speculating here, but it’s likely that the line of though most embryologists and clinics take is that if the sperm is bad, the egg won’t develop or the embryo will arrest before transfer or freezing or will result in an early miscarriage. Nature’s safeguards will still prevail.

I’m concerned that this study and the emphasis it places on male-factor infertility will confirm the general public’s tendency to believe that ART is playing God and that interventions such as IVF and ICSI allow couples who possibly should not be able to reproduce to do so.  I also worry about the despair it could cause couples suffering from male-factor infertility and/or relying on ICSI as part of their treatment arsenal: they really are genetically inferior.

It’s important to remember that the outcome of intellectual disability after ICSI is still very rare and that ICSI remains a safe option for the overwhelming majority of couples using it.  These types of articles frustrate me because they tend to overstate the results of these studies almost gleefully: of course IVF is unsafe. We told you so!  The bottom line is that having children, having healthy children, is a crap shoot that every couple faces regardless of whether they use ART or conceive naturally. And reproductive science continues to advance all the time. On the heels of the sensational IVF/intellectual disability headlines came the news about Connor Levy, a baby born after his parents had cells from their IVF embryos sent to Oxford for scientists to analyze for genetic abnormalities. The results of the analysis enabled the Levys’ doctors to transfer the best embryo; the screening process is being hailed as revolutionizing IVF and potentially reducing the number of multiple births.  Maybe in a few years, we’ll regard the study’s findings about ICSI as a quaint example of IVF’s earlier days.

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What do you think of the results of the survey? Did you use ICSI? Would it change your usage of ICSI?

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Keanne of Family Building With a Twist in her own words: I’m KeAnne (like LeeAnne w/ a “K”). Mommy to 1. Wife to someone who knows how my mind works. Scary (you should see what goes on in my mind). Owned by 3 cats. I work full time and don’t craft or DIY (you’re welcome). I like books, conspiracy theories, Downton Abbey and cooking. I dislike chocolate, zinfandel, carpet beetles and experts. Expect over-thinking, the occasional rant, strong opinions and the occasional (OK, often) piece of useless knowledge.

It takes balls…

This is part two of our two-part feature on male factor infertility issues. Yesterday I shared an article about what it’s like for men dealing with infertility. (Click here to catch up.) Today, my husband is guest posting to give us his personal take on it. We hope you’ll enjoy and share your thoughts with us.

They are THE symbol of virility. And, for the man who really wants to make a “statement” about his manhood, he can even hang a pair from his truck bumper. Regardless of what that statement might be (that’s a blog post for another board/time), as a man who has struggled with male-factor infertility (MFI), I find the truck nut statement, regardless of what it might be, confusing. Do the balls really make the man? If so, what does that mean for a man who may be struggling to “do his part” in conceiving a child? What I’ve learned on my journey with MFI is that it’s not the circumference of one’s testicles that makes the man, but the size of his… I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, a little about my story.

It was December of 2010, Chandra and I had been married for two and a half years when we miscarried. Yes, “we.” We miscarried after months of preparations, procedures and counseling with a fertility specialist. We. Nothing can prepare you to “be a man” in the midst of a miscarriage. I’ll never forget that night: running to Walgreen’s and buying multiple pregnancy tests to “make sure” that it wasn’t a misreading; sitting in the hall as Chandra took the tests; barging in when she started bawling; and, holding her as we cried in each other’s arms on the bathroom floor.

I wish I could wax eloquently about the emotions that led to my decision to get tested. The fact of the matter is that I couldn’t bear to see my wife so heartbroken again. I had to do something. And, that something was making sure I was “doing my part.” After several “complete” examinations (and I mean complete—in 21 years when I turn 50, I’ll know exactly what to expect), it was determined that I had varicoceles that were overheating “the boys.” Surgery was the only option: a same-day surgery with a small incision just below the belt line. February of 2011 I had the surgery. I had to be horizontal for a week and no “heavy-lifting” for a week after that. Since I work in a very public setting, and I was out for two weeks, news quickly spread about me being “laid up.” And, though this was a private matter, the rumors became very public. People were spreading unflattering rumors about my balls. Seriously, I’m a pastor not a porn star. It was strange that otherwise great people felt it their responsibility to provide commentary on something they knew nothing about. The rumors were embarrassing and spread quickly. Nevertheless, I stayed quiet and let the rumors circulate and run their course without saying much of anything. But, I shouldn’t have. I should have said something then, but I didn’t. So, I’m going to say it now…

Male factor infertility doesn’t make you less of a man.

Manhood is not defined by the circumference (or the productivity) of the testicles hanging between your legs (or from the bumper of your truck!). The true measure of a man is his ability to see the truth of a situation and do something about it.

Male factor infertility is a real issue that we (especially men) can’t ignore. According to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine:

“about one-third of infertility can be attributed to male alone factors.”[i]

It’s a common issue. By saying and doing nothing, we are diminishing our manhood. Denying the truth of a situation doesn’t help anyone. Let me be clear: being open about and dealing with male factor infertility will “take a lot of balls.” It takes courage to talk about, find answers to, and go through treatments (if there are any) for MFI; but, in the end, it’ll make us all better men.

Male factor infertility isn’t easy to talk about. I know that. This is really the first time in three years that I’ve written or spoken so openly about it. I know, statistically, I’m not alone on this journey, but there aren’t many other men who are willing to talk about male factor infertility. “It takes balls” to tell your story. I’ve found and shared mine. Will you?

What’s your story?


Has male-factor infertility affected or influenced the way you understand manhood?

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daddy unicornChandra is a Mom and Foster Mom. She holds a Master’s degree in Theology and is particularly interested in the theology of infertility. Chandra’s husband has *balls* and she is so crazy in love with him it’s not even funny. She occasionally attempts to make sense of all those things, and more, over at her blog, MetholicBlog. She also shares embarrassing stories about her husband and unicorns, because yeah, he’s so manly he plays toy unicorns with his daughter, Stella, and they have magical adventures together.


[i] “Men’s Health: Male Factor Infertility” at OSU.edu <http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/mens_health/male_factor_infertility/Pages/index.aspx> Accessed June 19, 2013.

news item: for men, infertility often becomes a private heartache

Welcome, this is a special 2-part series featuring posts from myself and my husband. Today I’m going to review a news article that looks at the male perspective of infertility, and share with you about our own personal journey. Tomorrow my husband is going to respond to the same news article with his perspective – what it’s like to be the guy half of a couple facing infertility. So stay tuned!

What is it like to go through infertility? We could all write pages about that one question. But ask it slightly differently and I bet most of us would struggle to find an answer: What is it like to go through infertility as a man? And even harder to answer: What is it like to go through infertility as a man, with indications that male factor infertility issues are at play?

A recent Washington Post article attempts to look at these two questions. What is it like for a man to watch your wife go through injections, invasive procedures, only to not get pregnant month after month? The unspoken rule of silence that pervades men when going through infertility issues, how does a guy bring that up to his buddies? At best it’s just a general comment of “were having trouble getting pregnant” and then averting of eyes and changing the topic.

Why? Because society tells us that infertility is a) ALWAYS the woman’s fault, and b) men are always super fertile. When a couple announces they are pregnant, what happens? The husband gets slapped on the back and comments of ‘good job’, ‘way to go’ and other inane and inappropriate comments are made. The author of the article relates a real life example:

When she considers what men go through, she thinks about rapper Jay-Z. At an awards show soon after wife Beyoncé announced her pregnancy, cameras panned to the expectant mother proudly rubbing her growing belly. Men sitting near the couple jumped up to slap Jay-Z on the back and offer high-fives for a job well done.

And when you do come out of the ‘infertility –closet’, Stephen Yunis, one of the men interviewed in the article says:

Friends would joke he must be doing it wrong. “It’s always a guy thing, like a sexual guy thing. And they think it’s hilarious. Most of them are just kidding. But it’s like, ‘You don’t have any idea.’

Yeah. We got that comment, multiple times, from friends and family. And when you come fully out, when you tell close family and friends your infertility is related to male factor infertility (MFI) issues – wowza – the comments, I was not prepared for the comments we got. Most given in general support, people grasping to say anything. That support is appreciated, the comments, not so much. My husband was actually questioned about whether he was really a “man.”

This is why we, both my husband and I, talk about this. And I will talk about it here as well. My husband had varicoceles. That’s a fancy word for extra veins in his groin. Now, if you remember your sex-ed class correctly you’re thinking ‘but good blood flow down there is a good thing, isn’t it?’ It is, varicoceles don’t impact function, if you get my drift. But extra blood flow heats the ‘boys’ up, so it was like my husband was sitting in a hot tub 24-7. And we all know too much heat causes all sorts of problems. We had poor morphology, poor motility, and DNA fragmentation.

There are many types of MFI, from genetic factors present at birth that render a man sterile, to a missing vas deferens, to lifestyle factors. For the most part MFI is never about whether a man can ‘perform.’ But in some cases, say a man who was abused as a child, or a man on certain medications that, as a side effect, cause impotence, it does come down to function. Now imagine those comments again, and how damaging they can be.

I can’t say our decision to talk about our infertility issues has always been rosy; people for some reason are uncomfortable talking about MFI issues yet are more than willing ask a woman personal questions about her body. But I can say this; my husband’s willingness to address this issue head on has proven to me more about his ‘manliness’ than anything else in our relationship. When we first started having trouble he was there to support me, and volunteered himself to get checked out, saying he would do whatever needed to be done to figure out our fertility issues. That, my friends, is a M-A-N. Confronting the unknown, the uncomfortable, and facing it head on. That is the face of a true man dealing with infertility issues. That is what helped me get through our infertility issues, both mine and his, knowing his was 110% with me and willing to put in the same effort I was.

I hope you’ll read For Men, Infertility Often Becomes a Private Heartache, tell us what you think and come back tomorrow to get the male perspective from my very own husband.

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PAIL headshotChandra is a Mom and Foster Mom. She holds a Master’s degree in Theology and is particularly interested in the theology of infertility. Chandra grew up in the Northeast but she and her husband are raising their daughter in the middle-of-nowhere Indiana. She has 3 chickens that drive her crazy, a huge garden, and a penchant for bacon. She occasionally attempts to make sense of all those things, and more, over at her blog, MetholicBlog. She also shares embarrassing stories about her husband and unicorns.

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