by William Cutrer, M.D., and Sandra Glahn, Th.M.

Not that long ago, male infertility did not exist. In the “old way” of thinking, if a guy could achieve an erection, we said it must be the “woman’s problem.” But once researchers could analyze and test semen not only for “living” sperm but also count, motility, and a host of other characteristics, we discovered that fertility problems in men are as common as in women.

In the early days of male fertility treatment, we saw a variety of “creative” suggestions. These included “ice therapy,” a “sadistic torture” based on findings that sperm count and motility increase if the testicles are cooled.

Folk wisdom encouraged infertile couples to abstain from relations for two weeks, thinking that would improve the chances. Now we know that if a man with a low sperm count waits to “store up sperm” for longer than two or three days, the sperm count and fertilization potential can actually decrease owing to the increased presence of dead or immobile sperm.

Likewise for those advised to “do it more often,” a marginal sperm count can actually drop to infertile.

Precise testing has helped us to better understand male infertility and, fortunately, doctors can now successfully treat many of the diagnosable problems.

What are some of the issues that Christian couples with male factor infertility must consider?

First, the examination of the semen itself is problematic for some Christians. To evaluate the sperm the specimen must be obtained, often by masturbation, and many Christians consider this practice always wrong. In fact, some infertility clinics have a special “collecting room” equipped with pornographic videos and magazines to “assist” male patients in obtain sperm specimens. However, this clearly violates Jesus’ prohibition against lust:

Matthew 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

However, does that mean that a semenalysis is impossible for Christian couples? We would suggest that the husband could get the specimen with the assistance of his wife, focusing his thoughts on her, and thus not violating the Scriptural mandate.

For some, the procreative aspect of reproduction (babymaking) cannot be separated from the unitive (lovemaking). That is to say, some testing and treatment options are not permissable because the efforts at conception are separate from sexual intercourse. While we believe that physical intimacy is not only a beautiful part of marriage and a theological picture of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5), we are not convinced that medical technological advances cannot be employed to assist husbands and wives to achieve a pregnancy. However, we do respect those holding this view and honor their convictions not to use treatments that violate this position.

For those holding this view, a special condom has been developed to collect the semen during the act of intercourse. While this isn’t as effective medically as direct collection, it is certainly adequate. In fact, for those couples who believe the procreative possibility must always exist with the unitive, tiny pinholes can be placed in these special condoms to facilitate sperm collection while maintaining the “possibility” of conception.

If this seems extreme, or even legalistic to you, hopefully you can appreciate the profound pain of couples experiencing infertility, and the lengths they will go to arrive at a diagnosis and treatment plan while staying within the acceptable ethical boundaries of their faith systems.

Next time we’ll explore some of the treatment options for male infertility and the ethical questions they raise