Words: Élaine Genest
Photography: Adrian Knowler

Infertility will affect about one in six couples. Cultural notions have often implied that infertility is caused due to a malfunction in women’s reproductive health, since they are the ones carrying the child.

However a 2018 study by researchers at the Lady Davis Institute of the Jewish General Hospital concluded that infertile couples are due to male infertility about half of the time. A total of 446 men between the ages of 18 and 62 filled out the survey.

The findings from the survey suggest that most men are less inclined to seek advice about fertility. The results concluded that the majority of the participants were open to fertility-related social support.

Funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research, researchers are now in the process of creating two apps dealing with the education of fertility. One app will be specifically for men, and another app will be created for couples.

Knowledge Translation Specialist Joy Schinazi makes the information about fertility digestible for users. “My job is really to make the research become accessible to people in a manner that is easily understood,” said Schinazi.

The app was introduced in fall 2018 and is now being tested by 150 research participants over an eight-week period. They will then provide feedback to the researchers, based on their experiences.

“Increasingly, people are using smartphones and apps to obtain health information,” said Dr. Phyllis Zelkowitz, director of research in the Department of Psychiatry, and senior investigator at the LDI.

“[Men] may prefer the 24/7 accessibility and anonymity of information-seeking online.”

Women who go through fertility tests are often subject to pap smears, physical exams, hormone screening, intrauterine exams, cervical mucus exams and further evaluation of reproductive systems, whereas men’s examinations are comprised mostly of semen and culture analysis.

“Testing for women infertility is really long, complicated, painful, whereas testing for sperm deficiencies is really simple,” said Rachel Berger, an associate professor and director of the Individualized Program for Concordia graduate students.

Berger’s research looks at couples who use assisted reproductive programs. Berger describes an infertility test known as laparoscopy as a “very very painful test” that examines fallopian tubes and checks for blockages.

“If you have to go through a [laparoscopy] you’re not going back to work that day, you’re taking a pack of antibiotics and some pain medication and taking a couple of days off work,” she said.

Berger explains that testing both people in a couple is necessary to properly diagnose infertility, but said there’s a difference between a “very simple test and one that’s quite invasive.”

“We don’t have the same kind of discourse around male infertility that we do around female infertility,” she says. “We don’t position the men as being infertile as often as we do to women.”

At the moment, the app is purely for research purposes and is not yet available for the public. The LDI foresees the app to be available to the public in the future.