For couples who are having trouble doing so, the quest to reproduce can quickly become an all-consuming problem, and one that is as expensive and stressful as it is emotionally draining and drawn-out.
Fertility treatment is particularly hard on women. Indeed, for most of human history, the ‘blame’ for infertility has been largely laid at the door of women—you don’t read much about ‘barren’ men in the Bible or Shakespeare—but in recent years, men have become more willing to accept some of the responsibility.
With average male sperm counts down by as much as 50% (environmental factors including oestrogen in drinking water are blamed by researchers) since World War II, men are increasingly embracing a wide range of holistic and alternative treatments to boost both the quality and quantity of sperm they produce.
These include everything from vitamin and dietary supplements to acupuncture, stress counseling, meditation looking at pornography before sex—and even applying ice to one’s testicles.
Jesse Johnson, who, with his wife, Theresa, runs The Fertile Soul, a holistic fertility practice based outside Chicago, for example, advocates a diet rich in anti-oxidants and free from heavily processed foods and sugar as the easiest and quickest ways to boost fertility.
They also believe that stress and—more controversially—negative life experiences from the past can be a major cause of ‘blockages’ which can manifest as infertility for men. They suggest acupuncture and counseling to work on these deeper issues.
If you accept that stress is a major contributory factor to male infertility, then it stands to reason that putting yourself under pressure to get pregnant will only makes things worse.
For example, couples are commonly advised to have sex when the woman’s base temperature drops slightly, which suggests she is ovulating, but, says, Johnson, “Timed intercourse, that feeling of not being in control, can be very counter productive, as for many men it really affects their feeling of what being a man is.”
Jesse and Theresa encourage couples to rediscover the joy of sex, as they believe that powerful orgasms are more likely to create babies.
“When you look at the energetics of the thing, a woman reaching orgasm has a physiological effect on body which creates an environment where conception is more likely to happen. There’s more lubrication, which makes it easier for sperm to travel, there is contraction of the uterus, the vaginal wall opens and relaxes,” says Theresa.
Other researchers believe pressure changes caused by female orgasm help suck up the sperm into the cervix and from there into the uterus.
Not all the pressure is on the woman to have an orgasm, however. A more enjoyable male experience increases the force of male ejaculation and the quantity of ejaculate fluid.
Indeed, a Channel 4 documentary in the UK claimed that an extra five minutes of sexual activity before ejaculation can produce 10% more sperm, which tend to be of a higher standard (no double headers or missing tails).
Other research has shown that men who have viewed pornography just before ejaculation also produce greater amounts of sperm—and, amazingly, if the porn features two men with one woman, the sperm count and quality rises even further as the competitive male instinct kicks in, and the body puts an extra effort into making sure its sperm win the race.
The damaging effect of overly-warm testicles on sperm production is well known, and a pioneer in the field of ball-cooling infertility treatments is Josh Shoemake, an American writer, teacher and (now) underwear entrepreneur who lives in Paris.
The all-consuming and extremely expensive quest to reproduce was affecting a close friend of Shoemake’s, when he was living in Marrakesh as headmaster of the American school in the Moroccan town (“It was terribly glamorous,” he says of the establishment, “Yves Saint Laurent used to fly down to do the costumes for the school play.”)
His buddy (and now business partner), who wishes to remain nameless, saw a succession of increasingly expensive doctors, who prescribed ever more dramatic fertility treatments, most of them aimed at boosting his wife’s fecundity.
“Finally, he went to one doctor who said, ‘Look man, what you need to do is ice your balls.’ He had what’s called a variocele in his scrotum—a vein, basically—and the blood was keeping his balls too warm to make sperm efficiently,” says Shoemake.
Science contends that the scrotum should ideally be about 2 degrees Farenheit cooler than the rest of the body for optimal sperm production.
Shoemake and his buddy discovered that variocele appears in about 15—20 percent of men and is the primary cause of infertility in up to 40 percent of men who have problems fathering a child.
“The best the doctor could suggest was sticking a bag of frozen peas down his pants (British for undies),” says Shoemake, “Well, you feel like an idiot holding a bag of frozen peas on your crotch for an hour. And it’s kind of inconvenient. That’s when we had the idea to make cooling underwear.”
And lo, Snowballs—underpants which can hold a flexible gel pack that you store in the freezer—was born.
“We like the funny name. It’s a thing guys have trouble talking about. If guys are talking about their balls, they need a bit of a joke.”
Snowballs also found fans among the weightlifting community, as ball-icing is believed to boost testosterone, which is why rumors persist that Communist weightlifters used to ice their balls.
For those more interested in contraception rather than conception, as far back as 1946 Dr. Martha Voegeli experimented with heat-based contraception, describing her process as follows: “A man sits in a [shallow or testes-only] bath of 116 degrees Fahrenheit for forty-five minutes daily for three weeks. Six months of sterility results, after which normal fertility returns. For longer sterility, the treatment is repeated.”
The Snowball gel pads can, in fact, be heated in a microwave, but Shoemake says, he is “not willing to guarantee you are not going to get your woman pregnant,” by using Snowballs as heat pads.
But, a note of caution; the scientific establishment is not, as yet, 100% convinced by many of the alternative male fertility hacks that are currently in vogue. Take Dr Allan Pacey, Senior Lecturer in Andrology (male reproductive health) at the University of Sheffield, and Chairman of the British Fertility Society, for example. Dr Pacey told the Daily Beast, "I think the influence of alternative treatments are overstated and are largely unproven and have not been subjected to testing by the gold standard method of 'randomised controlled trial'.
"Whether a man is fertile is largely determined by his genes, the quality of his development as a fetus (when he was inside his mothers womb), his general health during childhood and adulthood and … the frequency of his sexual activity and the fertility of his partner. So a man with good genes, large testicles, a good medical history, and a fertile partner with whom he has good sexual frequency will arguably be more fertile (or get his partner pregnant quicker) than a man with poor genes, small testicles, many medical problems and a poorly fertile partner with whom he doesn't have regular sex. "Lifestyle factors and alternative treatments have to be taken in the context of all this. So whilst we know (from a study that I did in 2012) that men with tight pants have poorer motile sperm counts, there has not been a decent study which has asked men to switch their pants to see if it helps their fertility." Any volunteers, chaps?