Masturbating in a porn-filled doctor's office isn't as easy as it sounds, says Greg Wolfe, a high-school English teacher and former standup comic. The lights are bright, the smut is bad and more often than not there's a lineup of antsy men staring at the floor outside the sperm-sample room.
Infertility isn't for wimps. For Mr. Wolfe, the birth of his son Connor involved four cycles of IVF, $40,000 in treatment fees, and learning to use a hypodermic needle to inject hormones in his wife's butt.
He gave the lowdown in How to Make Love to a Plastic Cup: A Guy's Guide to the World of Infertility. He talks with The Globe and Mail about his infertility journey:
In your book, you compare sperm to invading armies and vaginas to enemy territory. Why all the aggressive metaphors?
For guys, we've all seen war movies, we can picture these things. When it comes to women's bodies, no matter how enlightened we think we are, we're still a little squeamish. So putting it in war terms makes it easier.
Do guys really need to know the nitty-gritty about the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle?
Yes, they need to know because their wives need them to know. It's a partnership, and your wife needs somebody to talk to about these things. She needs someone to lean on. And as the fertility technology gets more advanced, men play a much bigger role. Also, sometimes it's the man's problem, the fertility problem. They owe it to their wives to know what's going on.
Lots of men refuse to get a sperm test until their wives have gone through a battery of gynecological procedures. How can women persuade men to get tested earlier on?
I think it's just making sure to convince them that the quality of their sperm doesn't play a role in how much of a man they are. Men, ego-wise, it's very hard for them.
What was your reaction when you found out you were shooting blanks?
It was a pretty big blow. All of my friends were having kids. I would make jokes about it, but deep down I was kind of bummed out that I couldn't do this basic human reproduction thing. So I started doing more guycentric things. I started working out more and it made me feel better. But the main goal was having a kid, so it really wasn't going to make a difference that I could suddenly bench 210 pounds - although it was pretty awesome.
Did you ever go to a therapist or confide in male friends?
Guys really don't talk about this with other guys. That's one of the reasons for the book. My wife and I did go to counselling just to talk about how all this made us feel. It's a great time to try it because you're going to get really intimate with parts of your wife that you never knew you were going to be intimate with - like sticking needles in her and seeing her swell up to gargantuan proportions.
How did infertility affect your marriage?
There was a lot of arguing, I'll be honest. It's a stressful thing to begin with, then you add the hormones and the money problems on top. If you don't keep your sense of humour when you go into this, you are going to tear each other's throats out.
What's the best way to deal with a woman's IVF-induced mood swings, which you describe as psychopathic rage?
Once you understand what's going on [in her body] you can try to calm her down. Sometimes it's just listening. If she's at the point where she's broken down and crying, sometimes all it takes is for you to say everything's going to work out, because she's looking for anything to grab onto. So yeah, you have to fake the confidence.
Was your sex life in the tank during this time?
Oh yeah. Sex is the last thing on your minds because you're combining hormones, stress. She's bloated, so she doesn't feel sexy, and you don't feel sexy if she's not feeling sexy. It's just a whole bunch of things that do not make for romantic nights.
Did you ever feel guilty fantasizing about porn stars at the fertility clinic while your wife was waiting for your sperm in the next room?
Yeah, I did. A lot of times she was like, "Were you thinking about me?" And I'm like, "Yeah, of course." Meanwhile you've been watching two Asian nurses on the TV.
Would you have written this book if the fertility treatments hadn't worked?
Actually, I would. Even though it was successful, it was frustrating going through it because I didn't know what was going on. Guys are kind of like that - we want to know the rules ahead of time. But most fertility books are directed towards women. This is the book that I wish I had.
This interview has been edited and condensed.