In a shocking and rare display of masculine over-confidence, men appear to be less informed about their fertility than they think.
A 2016 study found that more than half of men think they are “very” or “extremely knowledgeable” about their reproductive health. The study also found that nine percent of men are unaware that male sexual health can influence a couple’s fertility.
Call it the Mick Jagger effect — or perhaps the “my dirty laundry winds up in the hamper whether I pick it up or not, so we’ll go with _not_” effect — but men aren’t overly bothered by this incomplete understanding of their sexual health. Only 13 percent of men have any experience with fertility assessments, and that figure includes men who are describing an assessment taken by their partner.
Men embracing a healthier understanding would undoubtedly be a positive development, as women’s fertility treatments are bound to be prohibitively expensive for most. A single cycle of egg freezing costs between $5,000 and $8,000, according to an investigation in Money Magazine. That’s not counting the needed hormone injections that lead up to it, doctor visits, storage fees, and the cost of having those eggs thawed and used.
The modern fertility process for men, I recently learned, is simpler. Take the startup Dadi (get it? Of course you do). For just $99, Dadi will ship any prospective daddy a kit that will allow them to collect and preserve sperm from the comfort of their own home. For another $99 a year, Dadi will cryogenically freeze and preserve it at a secure facility, indefinitely, until you are ready to try having children.
In an experiment that I hope will also leave forever unquestioned Inverse’s commitment to product-testing, I spent a week completing Dadi’s process from start to finish.
Product: Dadi Home Fertility Kit
Price: $99, plus $99 annually to store (or $9.99 per month)
Perfect for: Aspiring dads and over-sharing bloggers
Wednesday: Assessing the Landscape
Direct-to-consumer startups, like Dadi, tend to be quick in inspiring copy-cats, but I soon learn that the options available for men hoping to have their sperm cryogenically frozen from the comfort of their home are surprisingly limited. A few months ago, a Swiss company called Legacy presented at TechCrunch Berlin, winning a slot at the event’s startup battlefield by pitching itself as a “Swiss Bank” for your sperm.
Legacy is more expensive, with a baseline Bronze package running at least $350, plus storage costs. Unlike Dadi, it felt, to me, more marketed toward the concerned billionaire who plans on cloning himself one day. The platinum offering is “designed for the man who wants to preserve his healthiest genetic legacy in light of ongoing advances in healthcare.”
Another service, called YO! Sperm Test, also allows curious customers to assess the potency of their sperm from home, but requires performing the analysis yourself using a smartphone attachment which, frankly, seems a little messy.
The team at Dadi may be onto something, I decide, assuming the service actually works. I ask their PR rep if I can try it, like actually try it, and am told she’ll check. Inexplicably, none of the other journalists who have expressed interest in writing about Dadi seem to have inquired about this.
Friday: Arranging the Pick-up
I am eventually told that, yes, I can in fact be shipped a working sample product and return it to Dadi’s lab for testing and storing. There are some caveats, however. Since the product is still pre-launch, I have to sign up and complete the onboarding using Dadi’s beta site, which leads to some hiccups, mainly that Dadi’s instructional materials don’t always promptly find their way to my email inbox.
Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem, but trouble-shooting it requires a significantly more revealing and intimate email thread than I’d normally like to carry on with a publicist, or anyone for that matter.
Dadi advises, for example, making your deposit on a weekday morning, to expedite shipping, and abstaining from sexual activity for at least 48 hours beforehand. Logistical coordination will require keeping Dadi’s reps abreast of kit’s comings and goings.
Like most 21st century consumers, I’ve come to accept the notion that tech companies may know more about me than I realize, but informing a company about the exact timing of a mid-workday wank break still felt a bit surreal.
Monday: Why Men Are Starting to Get Serious About Their Sperm
As my kit is assembled and rushed to me, I call up Dadi’s founder and CEO Tom Smith to get the low-down. Is there really that much of a market, I ask, for at-home male fertility tests?
“One in six couples have trouble conceiving,” Smith tells me. “And that number goes up every year. If you polled society, most people would probably say that the women were to blame for the infertility in all those cases, but in reality, one in 10 men are infertile, and men have a biological clock, just like women. So by offering the service, we hope to help equalize the education debate.”
Unaware that I had a biological clock (curse you aging rock stars and the misleading perceptions about your virility!), I check Smith on his facts and discover that, if anything, he may be understating the extent of the problem.
Men over 40 are about half as fertile as men under 25, according to one researcher’s estimates. Men collectively may also be getting less fertile: A 2017 meta-analysis estimates that the average sperm count among males fell nearly 60 percent between 1973 and 2011.
A meta-analysis — basically a study of the available, sometimes flawed studies — leaves plenty of room for doubt about whether sperm counts are actually declining at all, as one of its authors recently clarified to New York magazine.
But whether it’s the plastics, climate change, skinny jeans, or a false alarm we do know one thing for sure: People in the United States, collectively, are having way fewer babies. I ask Smith again to clarify how soon he can get me my kit.
Tuesday: The Polar Vortex
My kit arrives via messenger in the middle of the afternoon, which is actually pretty fortuitous timing, as it means I can drop the sample off at a nearby FedEx during my lunch break. Or at least, that’s how the day would have gone had the delivery not coincided with a polar vortex.
Providing my sample is easy enough, though, even accomplished masturbators may find aiming a challenge. The package that arrives is attractive and futuristic.
The most impressive element of the product is the canister itself, which, once sealed (tightly!) is topped with a kind of button that allows you to deploy a preservative. Thanks to the preservative, your sperm will keep overnight if you’re unable to send it back to Dadi’s lab that same day.
The polar vortex, and an impending snow storm, makes this option attractive, but after weighing the feelings of my roommates I decide against leaving a futuristic cum carton in our shared fridge overnight.
As I venture to my nearby FedEx, the snow begins to pick up. The FedEx worker on duty is disconcertingly puzzled by the packaging despite the affixed return label. “We can’t hold this,” he tells me, pointing to the sticker, which designates the package as containing biological material.
I briefly consider saying something dry, like “oh don’t worry, it’s not blood or drugs or anything, just my semen,” but decide this unwise. Packages of this kind, he eventually explains, must either arrange direct pick-up, or be dropped off at an unmanned pick-up point.
It’s at this exact moment that a gust of wind blows intimidatingly. Everyone in the little FedEx store marvels at how rapidly the storm has picked up. My resolve to get the story begins to subside. FedEx informs me that the nearest drop-off point is nearby, on the other side of the adjoining Columbia University campus. “I can’t miss it,” he lies. While wandering around in the snow, I find a FedEx driver who directs me to the drop-off point.
Wednesday: Waiting for My Results
It’s at this point that it finally occurs to me that my funny lil’ stunt of a story might have consequences.
One-in-ten men, you may recall, are infertile — hardly infallible odds. My hazy college years, coupled with my present lack of exercise, give me more cause for concern.
My fiancée and I are in the middle of planning a wedding for March 2020, too, and we’ve already hashed out a plan for when and how to have kids. What I learn from Dadi’s test results could throw a wrench in that plan. On the other hand, not knowing is also kicking the can down the road.
In other words, I experience the typical gamut of emotions and insecurities that anyone goes through when they’re awaiting not only medical news, but medical news that’s related your manly parts. You’re probably fine, but if you’re not-fine, you’re also perhaps even a little bit less of a man.
These thoughts run through my mind, despite wildly supportive and open-minded parents, an endless stream of good role models, and a partner who wouldn’t dream of calling off a wedding over some silly issue with my sperm. If they occur to me, in other words, I think they’d occur to most guys in my position, no matter how open-minded your approach to masculinity.
Then again, think of the double standard: Men aren’t really pressured to think about reproductive health, and so we don’t, at least not really. This makes us unprepared for pressures and insecurities that attending to your fertility health may awaken. But just because these feelings are new to us, it doesn’t mean that they’re aren’t a whole lot worse for women.
Most companies profess a commitment to education — how else will they get you to realize how useful and helpful their products are!? — but the new male fertility startups like Dadi or Legacy are rare examples of a companies whose educational aspirations have the potential to address an actual knowledge gap.
Thursday: The End
By now, Dadi has officially launched. My sample arrives at its facility and is processed in under 48 hours (for lab testing and storage, Dadi partnered with The New England Cryogenic Center, which has been around since 1971).
It’s fine, a perfect echoing of my college years in that my sperm-count puts me right in meaty part of the bell curve. Despite my aim anxiety, I have provided Dadi’s scientists with enough to give me three shots at fertilizing an egg some day, when I’m ready. Because the storage costs are relatively cheap at $99 a year, they’ll also easily be covered by my fiancée’s employer’s fertility benefit.
I was pleasantly surprised at the value that a product which I began investigating as a something of a stunt was able to add to my life.
Even accounting for the pre-launch product hiccups, the polar vortex, and a handful of awkward conversations, there’s no doubt the at-home experience will make many more men open to the idea of paying attention to their fertility health, at least, relative to those who would psyche themselves up to actually visit a clinic.
The conversation about sperm is also a conversation that, at present, has a lot of dicks in the room. From conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones to the noxious community of “Red Pillers” who bemoan evidence of declining sperm counts as evidence that an epidemic of laundry -folding and gender studies-taking males pose a threat to the species.
View the sperm discourse from any reasonable vantage point, and you’ll be all the happier startups are trying to grab the mic.
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