When a couple is struggling to conceive, it's the woman who is usually the first — and often the only one — to be poked, prodded and analyzed, experts say. The burden of figuring out infertility is too often placed on the woman alone.
"Unfortunately, the majority of society looks at infertility as a women's issue, but that's just not the case," said Brad Imler, American Pregnancy Association president.
Placed among dozens of pregnancy, ovulation and female fertility kits, an at-home sperm test that hit retail shelves in April could help change that mentality, experts said.
SpermCheck Fertility, which determines in minutes whether a man's sperm count is low, offers almost instant insight into one of the many aspects of male fertility. Although it's not a comprehensive evaluation and could give some consumers a false sense of security, the test does provide a starting point while drawing attention to male infertility as a legitimate health concern.
"It may provide (an opportunity for) both physicians and couples to take a closer look at ways for men to step up to the plate and optimize their reproductive potential," said Dr. Robert Brannigan, urologist at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "I think anything that highlights the fact that men can have issues, that men do play a role in infertility, is important."
Approximately 15 percent of U.S. couples of reproductive age who are trying to conceive face infertility issues, said Brannigan, an expert in male fertility.
Male infertility contributes to 50 percent of those cases, he said. Male infertility alone is the cause 30 percent of the time; a combination of male and female factors account for the other 20 percent.
SpermCheck Fertility is designed to help couples determine more quickly whether male infertility might be a problem for them, said Ray Lopez, CEO of SpermCheck, based in Charlottesville, Va. Many men put off having a semen analysis because they don't want to provide a sample in a doctor's office or lab, he said.
"No one wants to go through the embarrassment of jumping in that room and looking at dirty magazines," Lopez said.
Giving men the opportunity to take a test in the privacy of their home helps get the process moving, he said.
Men tend to think they're perfectly healthy, especially when it comes to their sexuality, APA's Imler said. This test, which is noninvasive, could be wake-up call for some.
"If there is a problem with him, it's identified a little quicker," Imler said. "We love the idea of avoiding that heartache of that month to month struggle of trying to conceive without success."
SpermCheck Fertility is the only FDA-approved home sperm test currently on the market and available in retail stores, Lopez said. The test costs about $40; the average cost of a semen analysis in a doctor's office is about $100.
At-home sperm tests are a fairly new idea, Imler said, but SpermCheck Fertility is not the first one. Four years ago an FDA-approved home test called Fertell, which is no longer for sale, offered an evaluation of both male and female fertility.
There are also several at-home sperm analysis kits available online. They each include a microscope and cost at least $80.
Although it's not the first ever at-home test, SpermCheck Fertility is the first one to use the lateral flow assay method, Lopez said. When the semen sample is applied to the test strip, the liquid works its way up the paper until it reaches the results window.
"It's very, very similar to a pregnancy test," Lopez said. "The concept behind our test is to keep it simple, user friendly."
For Brittany Scott, a Cortland resident whose husband took the SpermCheck Fertility test, however, it seemed a little more complicated than a pregnancy test. Scott said she was surprised by the number of steps involved, although none were very difficult.
Scott, a "mommy blogger" who requested and received a free test to review, said she wanted her husband to take the test to see if a recent vasectomy had worked. The result showed that the father of four's sperm count was below the test's threshold.
Men's fertility test available for home
SpermCheck Fertility can raise as many questions as it answers
SpermCheck Fertility home test for men (Handout / April 25, 2012)