We’ve probably all been there and even used the expression ourselves at some point, your biological clock is ticking! Maybe it starts in our 20s with a little nudge from our mother’s, but pretty soon our friends and even coworkers are joining in during our 30s, and in our 40s…forget about it! All you hear is – hope you’re not too late!
As women, we start feeling this pressure early on, but what about men? Do they feel like they’re on a timeline to have kids? Probably not. The idea of “the biological clock” for fertility came about shortly after birth control became available and women started putting off having children to focus more on their education and careers. Sound familiar? You’re not the only one. Statistics post birth control of women waiting until the age of 30 or after to get pregnant skyrocketed. And still today women are choosing to wait longer than ever before.
As it turns out, women may not be the only ones with a ticking clock. Men may have one as well. In the book, The Male Biological Clock , by Henry Fisch, an expert on infertility. He discusses the notion that men too have a ticking clock. He notes that while this clock might not have a finite ending like menopause for women, men’s testosterone levels and sexuality do decline with age. These changes happen much more gradually than in women, and about 10 years later.
Society also gets behind the idea that men are able to have children virtually their whole life. This has been heavily tied to the idea of the “macho man” or the “playboy”. Several male celebrities have even had kids well into their 50s and 60s. Steve Martin (AKA the father of the bride) had his FIRST child at 67, an age when most people retire and have grandchildren. Legendary ladies man Hugh Grant had his first at 51, and Bruce Willis recently welcomed his 4th. I should mention though, these men all had children with much younger women.
Research into men’s fertility is also about 10 years behind women’s fertility research. There’s a good reason for it to. Most of the baby making responsibilities come from the maternal side of things. Think about it, from menstruation, then housing the baby for nine months, to giving birth, and even breastfeeding. All female centered responsibilities. Even IVF and many infertility treatments and tests are female focused rather than male. What research has been slowly uncovering though is that men too experience declining hormone levels and can play a role in increased health risks of the child.
In a recent scientific review that analyzed previous research done on men and infertility they found that advanced paternal age was linked to lower semen quantity, reduced sperm count, and a higher number of defective or damaged sperm. Another review looked into the impact aging might have on sperm DNA. DNA quality is important since each sperm is filled with DNA to be passed down through the generations. Each time new sperm is created, small mutations happen in the DNA. Over time, and with increasing age, they found that heavily mutated DNA in sperm samples could be linked with neurocognitive disorders like, autism and schizophrenia in the children. DNA damage in sperm has also been shown to more than double the rates of miscarriage in patients with high levels of DNA damage compared to those at lower levels.
Even though this research demonstrates that sperm quality can and does decline over time, many men are looked over when a couple is having fertility issues. Often times, the woman is looked at first for being the source of the trouble, but this may not be the case.
A study in the UK looked at couples trying to conceive naturally over a period of time, and assessed how long it took them to conceive. After accounting for potential culprits like mother’s age, sexual activeness, and other health factors, the likelihood of conceiving within a 6 month or 12 month timeframe was lower in older men and compared to younger men. Another study done in the UK found similar results as well. They found that men aged 45 and older were five times less likely to conceive in comparison to men 25 and younger. They also found that men 45 and older were 12 ½ times more likely to take 1-2 years to conceive than men 25 and under.
We’re not trying to scare you here with this information, and start you off thinking that everyone’s time is running out to have babies. What we do want to share is that women are not the only ones who experience infertility or contribute to a child’s future health. Men’s health and fertility can be an important factor in fertility as well. Research has shown that as men age they experience hormonal changes that can contribute to genetic diseases in children, to miscarriage, and to having trouble conceiving.
Women have sharper cut-offs in fertility, while men’s is more gradual. Men also have about 10 years longer than women before they start to see a decline – lucky! but, they too have a clock. In normalizing the idea of the biological clock for men, we could see an increase in research and medical services catered to male infertility, more doctors speaking to their male patients about fertility health, and maybe even men starting to think more about their own sexual health.
As always, we hope this article has given you some helpful information. Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions or to learn more.
We will do our best to keep you updated on any advancements in the world of reproductive health and together we can help women take charge of their fertility.