Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility review – a very male taboo

Figcaption Rhod Gilbert Stand Up To Infertility Review A Very Male Taboo
Posted at: Author: Rain TV UK

“I suffer a condition,” says Rhod Gilbert in Rhod Gilbert: Stand Up to Infertility (BBC Two), “called shit jizz.” Ninety eight per cent of his sperm don’t swim straight. That’s a lot of responsibility for the two per cent. I’m not saying there is a conspiracy to prevent men confronting this issue, but how typical that, when I typed those words, autocorrect changed it to “shit jazz”.

Given that, as we learn, about 500m sperm are released each time the Welsh funnyman ejaculates, you would have thought the 10m straight shooters would be enough to impregnate his wife, Sian. The “you would have thought” in the last sentence confirms not only that I have no medical training, but suffer from the real curse of modern men: complacent oaf syndrome.

So do Benjamin Zephaniah’s football mates. The Brummie poet tells Gilbert that when he found he has a condition which means he ejaculates no sperm, he had an existential crisis. “Suddenly, I wanted a child, really wanted a child. I used to go to parks and watch men playing with their kids and feel real envy and jealousy.” But Zephaniah never discussed those poignant feelings with his friends. When he mentioned the possibility of his infertility in the changing rooms after a game, one mate replied: “Boy, if you’re not sure, bring your woman to me, man.”

That’s the problem with a lot of men. We don’t share problems. We don’t do empathy, instead tacitly accepting the nonsense that a real man could impregnate every ovulating woman in the Birmingham area.

Gilbert has some ideas to change all that. He sets up a club in a pub’s upstairs room for men to talk about fertility issues. Fingers crossed it will inspire others. Big respect to the men who allowed themselves to be filmed sharing their stories. One explained how he felt on learning his motility was as sub-prime as a 2007 Louisiana mortgage. “I felt so frustrated. You can’t fix the situation. That’s probably one of the reasons men don’t talk.” Men who can’t fix their fertility problems feel doubly impotent and their resulting shame induces silence. But the silence does nobody, least of all women, any good.

We also see Gilbert work with an advertising agency to raise awareness of male fertility issues. They devise a campaign called Him Fertility featuring posters with the I of “him” picked out as a cavorting sperm. Nice touch. Then they have an even better idea. Britain, they tell Gilbert, needs a face of infertility – and it must be him.

“It’s my dream!” he says with a grim rictus. He and Sian wonder if fronting this campaign could be a disastrous career move. Is becoming to male fertility what Greta Thunberg is to the climate crisis the right thing to do? They agree that the benefits outweigh the risks. The campaign launches in a Cardiff shopping centre. “This is the worst day of my life,” says Gilbert, as he stops invited shoppers to discuss what underpants prospective fathers should wear. It flopped the next month when the pandemic gripped the nation, and IVF courses were postponed for thousands of couples. Now, perhaps, TV can bring some attention to the matter.

Indeed, there is much to bring attention to here, such as the fact that many couples spend months – even years – trying and failing to conceive because the woman is presumed to be the problem, even though in 50% of cases, male immotility is the culprit. Or, as one man in Gilbert’s club puts it: “Everyone’s pushed towards IVF rather than checking out what’s going on with the guys.”

Gilbert goes private to find out what is going on with his guys. A bacterial infection is found in his sperm sample that could be remedied with antibiotics. If, as seemed implicit, he and Sian have been trying and failing to conceive for six years because of an infection that could have easily been remedied, it is a terrible indictment of current practices.

However, research into male infertility has produced some breakthroughs. A specialist tells Gilbert about an experiment with mice in Jacuzzis. The subjects’ fertility was reduced because their testes were too hot – a finding that implies wannabe fathers should eschew Jacuzzis and hot baths. They should wear loose pants to keep genitals optimally cooled, too. I mean the men, not the mice. Mice don’t wear pants.

Ultimately, though, I wasn’t thinking about underwear fails. I was imagining those mice kicking back with little glasses of prosecco while their proverbial nuts got toasty. At least I hope that’s what happened.

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