Men Have Biological Clocks, Too — And It's Time They Started Listening to Them

Fertility is ageist, not sexist.

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Ah, the good ol' biological clock: Few things can ramp up a woman's anxiety levels as quickly as the tick-tock-tick-tock of her own fertility. But research suggests that women might want to take a break and leave the worrying to the men for a while.

According to a November 2016 study published in Human Reproduction, many men are woefully ignorant when it comes to their fertility. In fact, the group of more than 700 male participants could hardly identify half of the risk factors and health issues associated with male infertility (51 percent and 45 percent, respectively).

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That's particularly problematic because, contrary to popular belief, men do have their own ticking biological clocks. Just because men produce sperm throughout their entire lives (versus women, who have a finite number of eggs) doesn't mean the quality of that sperm remains steady throughout their lives.

The Tick-Tock of a Man's Biological Clock

Both women and men are affected by declining fertility as they age, which can have a major effect on a couple's ability to conceive and have a healthy baby.

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For example, in a June 2003 study published in Fertility and Sterility, only 25 percent of couples in which the men were over 50 were able to get pregnant in less than a year. This suggests that older men might actually have more trouble conceiving (or, at the very least, conceiving quickly).

But that's not the only obstacle that men over 50 face when trying to have children: Older men are more likely to see their significant others' pregnancies result in miscarriages, and their children may be more likely to have health problems, which is why the American Society of Reproductive Medicine now recommends that sperm donors be under 40 years of age.

Now, unlike women, who begin seeing a rapid decline in fertility around 35 as their egg supplies are depleted, men typically experience a more gradual decline in their fertility. This is because, for men, fertility is more a matter of a decrease in testosterone and the quantity and quality of sperm. According to a May 2006 study published in Fertility and Sterility, this decline typically begins in a man's 40s or 50s.

So, there's all this evidence to back up the existence of the male biological clock — and yet we still don't we hear much, if anything, about it. But why? Some suggest stereotypes surrounding gender and reproduction might be to blame.

It makes sense: A woman's role in pregnancy is much more visible than a man's, and more research has been conducted on women's reproductive health than on men's reproductive health. Plus, there's the long-standing belief that reproduction is solely a women's issue. (Ugh.) More research on men's fertility needs to be done — and we, as a society, need to talk more about a father's role in pregnancy — to bring the male biological clock into the realm of public discourse.

For more information about male infertility, visit mayoclinic.org.

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