Nearly half of men don’t seek medical help after a year or more of not being able to get their partners pregnant, a study in the journal Human Reproduction found.
Chalk it up to pride, says Stanton Honig, M.D., urologist and director of Men’s Health at Yale University School of Medicine.
A man dealing with infertility may feel like it makes him less of a man—and he may put off seeing the doctor to avoid confirming that a problem exists.
What’s more, many men incorrectly assume that if their partner can’t get pregnant, it’s likely due to a problem on her end, Dr. Honig says.
Not so: Infertility affects men and women equally, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM).
And avoiding the appointment can do more than delay parenthood. In rare cases, male infertility may be a sign of a more serious condition—like testicular cancer—that can lower your sperm count, Dr. Honig says.
In that case, an early diagnosis could help you get treated before the cancer has a chance to spread.
Don’t freak out, though. It’s more likely that the culprit is less serious—like a hormone imbalance or a physical obstruction in your scrotal region that can be fixed by surgery. Diabetes and high blood pressure can also play a role.
ASRM guidelines say to make an appointment with a urologist if you’ve been having unprotected sex for a year or longer and haven’t gotten your partner pregnant.
But if you have a history of problems that may affect your sperm, such as undescended testis, prior testis or scrotal surgery, prior chemotherapy or radiation, small testis, or if you use anabolic steroids, then you should get evaluated sooner, Dr. Honig says.
The appointment isn’t as uncomfortable as you might expect, either.
“Most men think the exam will be painful or they’ll be violated, but it’s just the opposite,” Dr. Honig says. “It involves a discussion, a painless physical exam, and a semen analysis.”
Related: 7 Signs You Have Healthy Semen
If your doctor finds a problem, the best treatment will vary widely depending on your specific diagnosis.
For more information on your infertility workup, causes of infertility, and treatments available, check out The Complete Guide to Infertility For Men.