Have you ever heard of Klinefelter Syndrome? Neither had I until last week. It’s relevant here because men who have it are usually sterile.
Klinefelter occurs when a male baby is born with an extra X chromosome, sometimes more than one. Usually males have one X and one Y. Females have two X’s. That extra X wreaks havoc with the boy’s system. The sexual characteristics that usually come with puberty come late, if at all. They have small testicles, sometimes grow breasts, sometimes have higher voices and don’t grow facial hair. They may seem more feminine than other boys. There are other aspects of the syndrome, such as emotional and cognitive delays, personality problems, weak muscles and a tendency to develop osteoporosis and bad teeth. The symptoms can be treated to a certain extent with high doses of testosterone, but hormone treatment does not restore the ability to produce sperm.
I recently read a book called Living with My X, written by Stephen Malherbe, a South African man who has Klinefelter Syndrome. Well into his teens, he still looked and sounded like a little boy and didn’t know why. After he got the diagnosis and was treated with testosterone, he grew to normal size and went through a late puberty, but his problems were not over. Malherbe has been married and has had many relationships with women. Most of those relationships failed, partly because he had trouble communicating and partly because sooner or later he had to tell the women he was infertile. The first woman he told was his fiancée a couple weeks before the wedding. He shouldn’t have waited that long, of course, but how do you say something like that? They went ahead with the wedding, but the marriage didn’t last long. Neither did his second marriage.
Most of the women he told about his problem said it was all right. They could adopt children. But sometimes they realized that wasn’t going to be enough. Sometimes his personality got to them. He was always leaping into new schemes, unable to sit still. He has also suffered a variety of physical problems stemming from his Klinefelter Syndrome. In later years, he has found someone to love, but Klinefelter continues to affect his life.
Klinefelter Syndrome and other genetic variations can manifest themselves in various ways. They do not always cause infertility, but KS usually does.
Here’s a shocker. Approximately one in 500 male babies is born with one or more extra X chromosomes. The degree to which it affects them varies. Some have no idea until they want to have children and discover they’re infertile. What if a woman falls in love with such a man? What if he can’t give you children but he’s the sweetest person you have ever met? What if you don’t find out until you’ve been married for a few years?
There are a lot of reasons people don’t have children. This is one most folks don’t know anything about. You can find more information at the Klinefelter Syndrome support site.
Have you ever known anyone with Klinefelter Syndrome? I’d love to hear your comments about this.