Men with infertility experience stigmatisation and a lack of support, a first survey on the subject found.
In spite of male infertility being the cause in 40 percent of cases of couples who can’t conceive, fertility care is often 'female-focused' according to the charity Fertility Network UK, which carried out the study with researchers at Leeds Beckett University.
'Men are half of the fertility equation; when they cannot create the family they long for without medical help they suffer and struggle physically and mentally just as women do,' said Susan Seenan, chief executive of the charity.
Of the 41 men completing the survey, about half had a diagnosis of male infertility. However, only 39 percent had sought support, feeling unable to talk to their partners, family and friends. On average, they had been trying to conceive for five years, and 93 percent reported that this had affected their wellbeing. Men said they felt worthless or 'less of a man'.
'Fertility and fatherhood are really important traditionally for men and masculinity, so men's identity and self-esteem is deeply affected by the process of infertility,' said study author Professor Brendan Gough at Leeds Beckett.
With infertility treatments based around women, men felt marginalised. 'The whole experience has been focused towards my wife… even consultants' letters about my genitalia are addressed to my wife,' said one man.
Furthermore, men reported that their infertility was not being treated like other medical conditions, and that they had encountered 'rude' and 'insensitive' healthcare professionals. 'It's still quite a taboo subject - made even worse when you're made to feel like you're wasting NHS time and resources,' Gareth Down, a patient who started a support group, told the BBC.
The men said they want to see a change in how society views fertility issues.
'In light of the findings from the study, we really need to think more about how men might be supported better when they're going through infertility so that they're able to access the advice and information they might need,' said Dr Esmée Hanna, one of the team at Leeds Beckett.