Men don’t know much about their own fertility, researchers say, based on their answers to a recent survey.

According to a study published in Human Reproduction, a survey of about 700 Canadian men showed that they “have limited knowledge of the various factors that are associated with male infertility,” as they were generally only able to identify about half of the risk factors and health issues linked to fertility issues like lower sperm counts. Those results were largely consistent across age groups and education levels, but the study noted that ethnic minorities “displayed moderately greater awareness.” Additionally, men with lower income levels who did not want to have children in the future were more likely to report that they were unaware of the risk factors and health conditions associated with infertility.

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“Men aren’t as inclined to ask questions about their health, so it stands to reason that they would be less well-informed about their fertility,” study leader Phyllis Zelkowitz, an associate professor of psychiatry at McGill University and director of research in the department of psychiatry at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, said in a statement from the university.

The study notes that men have already been shown in previous research to know less about general fertility and reproductive health than women, and the new findings delve deeper into knowledge of what affects their particular fertility, not just women’s health.

“Insight into the areas where men’s knowledge may be lacking can inform strategies for disseminating fertility-related information and improving men’s fertility awareness,” the study says. “Public health initiatives should tailor campaigns to educate men about the lesser known associations with male infertility, particularly those that are most prevalent and preventable through lifestyle modification.”

Those associations could include cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking and steroid use — which the surveyed men were more likely to correctly identify — as well as obesity, diabetes, frequent bicycling, testicle size and frequently using a laptop on your lap.

Despite their lack of knowledge, more than half of the respondents wanted to learn more about male infertility. A third of them also expressed concern about their own fertility. McGill University noted that greater awareness is key, as infertility rates are on the rise over the last 20 years, and educating men at a younger age could help prevent some cases.

“Infertility can be devastating for people,” Zelkowitz said in the statement. “When men can’t have children, or have to undertake very expensive treatments, it can have a grave psychological impact. It can lead to depression and put severe stress on relationships.”

Source: Zelkowitz P, Daumler D, Chan P, Lo KC and Takefman J. Men's knowledge of their own fertility: a population-based survey examining the awareness of factors that are associated with male infertility. Human Reproduction. 2016.

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