Much to every man’s chagrin, the male biological clock does indeed exist, although it is much less dramatic when compared to a woman’s. Many men who wait to have children or choose to start a second family after divorce may find that it is more difficult to conceive the older they get. Since virility is so closely tied to masculinity for many men, the male biological clock is a bit more taboo a subject than female infertility, and most men — especially those suffering from a full blown Peter Pan complex — prefer to deny or ignore the inevitability that their sperm may not have the effectiveness it once had.
Since approximately 40% of couples’ fertility problems can be attributed to the man, age is one factor in identifying the man’s specific fertility issue. The male biological clock is mostly driven by testosterone, a man’s sex hormone. Testosterone drops after a man turns 25, though not as low as the drop in estrogen women experience during menopause. Lower testosterone levels can lead to weight gain, which in turn results in more estrogen and less testosterone being produced in the man’s body. Added weight, especially around the middle, can contribute to heart disease which constricts blood flow. This can lead to erectile dysfunction.
While men continue to produce sperm throughout their lives — note 70, 80 and yes, 90 year old dads — the male biological clock affects the amount, motility and quality of sperm a man produces as he ages. Men between the ages of 30 and 50 typically experience a 30% drop in sperm count. In terms of motility, or how fast they swim, older sperm is 37% slower.
The quality of a man’s sperm is extremely important not only for conception, but for creating a viable fetus. Sperm that is damaged or malformed often results in babies with genetic defects. Older men produce sperm that is malformed five times more than its younger counterparts. Additionally, men at the age of 35 produce sperm that is, on average, 20% damaged, compared to 5% at age 25. Instances of genetic conditions such as dwarfism, Down syndrome and schizophrenia increase with paternal age.
The male biological clock affects how long it takes for a couple to get pregnant, plain and simple. Research has shown that couples with men 45 and up take as much as five times as long to get pregnant. While there are definitely other factors that contribute to infertility, such as infection, blockages, hormonal imbalances, etc. that can affect older men as well as younger men, age does bear on a man’s fertility.
Because no one is getting any younger, your doctor may recommend some simple changes in diet and exercise to improve your sperm count. If you and your partner are struggling to get pregnant, and you suspect that his age may be a factor, have him fully assessed by a fertility specialist to rule out other conditions or disease unrelated to age.