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Male Aging and Fertility
Many couples have concerns about the effects of age and fertility. Reproductive aging has become an increasingly important issue as our society has experienced longer life expectancy, advances in assisted reproductive technology (ART) and a changing role for women.
As noted in an earlier blog Age Related Decline in Female Fertility, maternal age significantly influences pregnancy outcomes, with maternal fertility peaking between the ages of 22 and 26 years and starting to decline around the age of 32 years. The progressive decline in fertility is caused by a loss of both the quantity and quality of the remaining eggs. Consequently, women experience an age-dependent increase of miscarriages, obstetric complications and chromosomal abnormalities of the fetus (Down’s syndrome for example).
Older Fathers Are Not New
Advanced paternal age is not new to current culture. The Bible notes that Lamech fathered Noah at the age of 182 years and had additional children before dying at the age of 777 years (Old Testament, Genesis, 5.28–5.30). Notable recent examples of older fathers include Anthony Quinn and Rupert Murdoch, both of whom became fathers in their 70s. National birth registries have demonstrated that children born to fathers over the age of 50 years old are quite common throughout the world (1).
In stark contrast to maternal age-related reproductive effects, the influence of paternal age on reproduction is less clear. Male reproductive functions do not cease abruptly, but advancing paternal age does have important consequences for reproductive function.
In men, reproductive hormones, including testosterone, decline with increasing age, impacting both sexual function and semen production. However, it is not entirely clear to what extent these effects contribute to the reduced fertility of older couples. This is in part due to the challenge of separating maternal and paternal age factors, as they often are closely related; that is, men and women of approximately the same age are most frequently coupled.
The Effects of Male Aging on Sexual Function
In addition, sexual activity decreases among older couples, partly due to the age-dependent increase in male sexual dysfunction. One clear predictor of erectile dysfunction is tobacco smoking, which doubles the likelihood of moderate or complete erectile dysfunction.(2)
Middle-aged couples pursuing fertility treatment frequently report sexual dysfunction, which may be contributing to the underlying fertility challenges. In some cases it may be the sole reason for infertility, but more sexual dysfunction is caused by or made worse by dealing with infertility and its psychological implications.
Because of the many causes of sexual dysfunction for men, numerous treatment options exist. For example, psychosocial interventions, including sexual counseling, and/or drug treatments with Viagra® or Cialis® may be effective either as individual therapies or in combination with other treatments.
The Effects of Male Aging Sperm
Sperm production is also affected by paternal aging. In one of our recent studies examining male aging, we found that while the concentration of sperm remains largely unchanged, the movement (motility) of the sperm and volume of the ejaculate are markedly reduced with age. This resulted in a lower total moving sperm count (3).
While these changes did not appear to affect the fertilization of the eggs with ART, it may have an effect on treatment cycles involving timed intercourse or artificial insemination (intrauterine insemination or IUI).
Ultimately, the reproductive aging process does not have the same effect for men as it does for women. Nevertheless, male aging can have important effects on the likelihood of achieving a pregnancy. Being aware of these reproductive changes should help to improve your chances of a fertile future.
- Kühnert B et al. Reproductive functions of the ageing male. Hum Reprod Update. 2004;10(4):327-39.
- Feldman HA et al. Erectile dysfunction and coronary risk factors: prospective results from the Massachusetts male aging study. Prev Med. 2000;30(4):328-38.
- Whitcomb BW et al. Contribution of male age to outcomes in assisted reproductive technologies. Fertil Steril. 2011;95(1):147-51.