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  • Writer's pictureEmily Hudson

Did Henry VIII trigger the invention of FemTech?

By: Emily Hudson, University of Oxford Micro-intern at Jack Fertility

Emily Hudson is a third year Physics student at Oriel College, Oxford. She is the Deputy Editor and Lead for Science & Technology at The Oxford Student.

Views expressed are her own

In 1533, Henry Tudor, King of England, forced a divorce from his first wife, triggering the reformation and changing religious culture in England irreversibly. The reason? She wouldn’t give him a son.

Today’s science knows that Catherine of Aragon was never wholly to blame for this disappointment. In fact, the Y chromosome – that which determines the sex of the child – is carried in sperm. Furthermore, male infertility contributes to up to 50% of all infertility. Lifestyle choices in diet and exercise impact the quality of sperm (looking at you, Henry!), comparably important to choices made by a woman during pregnancy. So why does it not feel that way?

As it turns out, scientific research has a huge blind spot when it comes specifically to male reproductive health. This is a shame: sperm is increasingly appreciated as a biomarker for men’s health in general. There is a dearth of funding, which should ring alarm bells given sperm counts have plummeted in the last 50 years alone. This is also unusual since, in most other fields, male health is front and centre.[1][2][3]

A natural conclusion is that this heavy gynaecological focus is driven by the perception of women as child makers, child carriers, child birthers, and child nurturers. Where is the space for the man in all of this? Fertility products are marketed solely to women. In clinics, the feminine focus seeps even into the decoration of a room. In so many cases, this culture is perpetuated by friends, by the media, and even by health specialists, at all stages of the fertility journey. Frequently, people receiving fertility treatment are made to feel that “it’s the woman’s burden”, stating that their (male) partners “have to purposely include [them]self in conversations.”[4]

Culture seems quick to forget that in terms of DNA, sperm has an equal contribution to the child. And, in terms of biological clocks: men have them too. Fathers contribute over four times as many possible genetic mutations to children as mothers.

Had Henry VIII had access to semen analysis, perhaps he might not be known for his six wives.[5]

This shortage of information on male reproductive health is a tragedy for all sexes. Increasing access to sperm testing services and to the information surrounding that is good for everyone and is especially a step forward in relieving women of this burden.

This is why, although a “male” service, male fertility tests are part of the femtech industry sphere.

“Femtech” is the family of technologies and products designed specifically to target gender inequity in healthcare. The WHO is on board: increasing the availability of semen analysis helps countries to progress towards universal access to healthcare, particularly reproductive healthcare (covered by UN Sustainable Development Goal 3.7 - universal access to reproductive healthcare).[6]

It has never been more true that feminism is for all genders. You'd think, maybe, that over the last 500 years, we'd have got farther. Alas: the best time to start is now.

Note: Throughout this article, the author refers to "men" and "women" in the place of "people with sperm" and "people with uteruses". This is because of the nature of the article as a comment on gender inequity and has no exclusionary motivation.


[1] Gumerova E, De Jonge CJ, Barratt CLR. Research funding for male reproductive health and infertility in the UK and USA [2016 - 2019]. Hum Fertil (Camb). 2022 Mar 18:1-11. doi: 10.1080/14647273.2022.2045521.

[2]Allyson J Rosati, Brian W Whitcomb, Nicole Brandon, Germaine M Buck Louis, Sunni L Mumford, Enrique F Schisterman, J Richard Pilsner. Sperm mitochondrial DNA biomarkers and couple fecundity. Human Reproduction, 2020; DOI: 10.1093/humrep/deaa191

[3]Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino-Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Maya Jolles, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H Swan, Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis of samples collected globally in the 20th and 21st centuries, Human Reproduction Update, 2022;, dmac035,

[4] Printed with permission from Hannah Horne-Robinson

[5]Jónsson, H., Sulem, P., Kehr, B. et al. Parental influence on human germline de novo mutations in 1,548 trios from Iceland. Nature 549, 519–522 (2017).

[6]WHO laboratory manual for the examination and processing of human semen, Sixth edition, 27 July 2021


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