Answers to the some of the most common questions posed by men on fertility, IVF, health and happiness.
- How do I check my sperm is ok?
Most men will know if they can maintain an erection and successfully ejaculate. However, this tells us nothing about the content of the ejaculate. In male ejaculate there is both seminal fluid (Semen) and sperm.
If you have been struggling to conceive for a year with a partner then your GP should arrange for a semen analysis test through the NHS. The easiest way to check whether your sperm count is normal is to find a fertility clinic and book in for a semen analysis test.
A sperm analysis test involves first abstaining from sexual intercourse or masturbation for 2-3 days before the test. You will need to masturbate to produce a fresh ejaculate sample into a small pot. This can be done at home or in many cases will be done at the fertility clinic itself in a private room.
The sample will be analysed and the sperm parameters checked. The four parameters of interest are:
1) Sperm volume
2) Sperm concentration
3) Sperm motility
4) Sperm morphology
Advice about your semen analysis is best interpreted with the help of a fertility specialist through a fertility clinic. If you want to understand more about your sperm count find a clinic near you now.
- Are my testicles of normal size?
Self-examination is an important part of understanding your own fertility. Most men will not have anything to compare to but testicular size is an important marker of normal function.
At puberty the testicle is around 8mls volume. A study in the BMJ in 2001 noticed that an alternative ways to check testicular volume by self-examination was to compare testicular size to a Malteser sweet which happens to be 8mls in volume.
Adults are expected to have testicles around 20mls in volume and this has been associated in the literature with normal function and normal semen parameters. As testicular volume decreases this has been linked linearly to worsening sperm parameters.
So if you are wondering if your testicles are a normal size buy a box of celebrations chocolates and if your testicle volume is about the size of two Malteser sweets then you are probably doing ok. Always ask a specialist if you are uncertain or if you notice any unusual lumps or bumps.
- When do men stop producing sperm?
Men’s fertility deteriorates with age but at a much slower rate than women. Men start producing mature sperm in the testicles during puberty and there have been several studies looking at the subsequent age related decline in sperm quality. Men can go on producing sperm well into their eighties.
There is a noticeable reduction in sperm volume, concentration and morphology with age. The changes that occur do not seem to be uniform though and there is a vast difference across the male population. The change in sperm concentration is more due to a reduction in sperm production in the testes.
It has been noticed that sperm motility change as we age. Motility of sperm is acquired during passage through the prostate gland and therefore the effectiveness of this gland is important with increased age.
- Do tight underpants affect my sperm?
It is true that a man’s choice of underwear really can impact on the quality of his sperm. A study from Harvard looked at men’s choice of underwear and found that men that wore boxers more frequently had 25% higher sperm concentrations than men who wore other types of underwear. Men who wore boxers were also found to have around 33% higher numbers of actively swimming sperm. It was noted in this study that men who wore tighter underwear were still found to have sperm counts in the normal range. Therefore the take home message here is that men that are struggling to conceive naturally may want to look closely at their choices of underwear.
- Does alcohol affect my sperm?
Alcohol consumption has been shown in several studies to have a detrimental impact on the male reproductive system. Alcohol seems to alter semen parameters and affect the testes. In most cases low levels of alcohol probably have minimal impact. However, some individuals may be more susceptible to sperm damage than others.
Alcohol consumed in high quantities can cause testicular and liver damage and in some cases lead to impotence and more severe problems. The vast majority of people who consume low levels of alcohol will not see an impact. Though if you are noted to have poor quality sperm it may be an important factor to consider.
- Does smoking affect my sperm?
Tobacco smoking is considered as one of the major factors leading to male infertility. It is clear from studies that smoking has a detrimental impact on both the quantity and quality of sperm.
It is thought that the toxins contained in cigarettes might be harmful to male germ cells and their development. Smoking does not seem to affect male hormones so the mechanism of injury to sperm is damage due to nicotine and the toxins in tobacco.
Several studies have shown that tobacco smoking is associated with a reduced sperm count and a higher number of abnormal sperm in the ejaculate. If you are wanting to quit smoking and looking for support you can become Smoke Free.
- Does exercise affect my sperm?
Playing sports and taking regular exercise has been shown to be beneficial to sperm quality versus a more sedentary lifestyle, which can be detrimental. However, there seems to be a fine balance to be struck between recreational exercise and professional sports, when the balance can tip the other way. There are certain sports that have been noted to be more concerning than others.
Cycling is one that has been shown to be one of the more troublesome sports for male fertility. Due to time spent in the saddle cycling in tight clothing, the mechanical impact and overheating leads to raised scrotal temperatures and reduced sperm motility and morphology. Running more than 100km a week has been linked to poor semen quality and marathon runners may see a drop in sperm count. Some research into mountaineers sawa reduction in sperm parameters with repeated exposures to high altitude.
- Does bodybuilding affect my sperm?
Intense weight lifting itself can impact on semen quality if it is done excessively. Anabolic steroids are the most commonly used drug for body building purposes and is the most damaging to male fertility. It is estimated around 5-6% of men globally might use anabolic steroids in their lifetimes. The use of anabolic steroids will switch sperm production off in the majority of cases due to the very high levels of testosterone in the body. It can take 6-12 months after stopping anabolic steroids to see a recovery in sperm production, though in some cases it never recovers fully.
- What can I do to optimise my sperm?
There are many dietary, nutritional and lifestyle changes that you may want to consider to give your sperm the best chance. Read our article on optimising sperm to understand more about how to approach this.
- Do sexually transmitted infections affect sperm?
The impact of sexually transmitted infection on sperm is very dependent on the infection. Chronic infection tend to be much worse for male fertility as a whole. Gonorrhoea can cause inflammation of the epididymis and strictures of the urethra. These structures represent the storage vessel and connecting pipe that releases sperm during ejaculation. Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s) rarely themselves reduce sperm potency but HIV can reduce sperm quality if immunodeficiency advances. The risk is more to the female partner who may develop pelvic inflammatory disease if infected by gonorrhoea or chlamydia.
- Does a lack of sex affect sperm?
A Chinese study in 2018 looked at the impact of short periods of abstinence on the quality of sperm. It studied the frequency of sexual intercourse and found that it appears to be beneficial to have regular intercourse as this can improve sperm parameters. After many years of research it is felt that having more frequent sex produces sperm of better quality, increasing the likelihood of a successful pregnancy.
- How do I know if I am producing sperm?
A man’s ejaculate is composed of two main components. The first is seminal fluid (semen) and the second is sperm cells (sperm). If you ejaculate it is possible that there are no sperm in the ejaculate. This is an unusual finding but the only way to check if a man is producing sperm is through successful natural conception or a laboratory semen analysis test is performed.
- Does masturbation affect my sperm?
Most men masturbate. It is a myth that regular masturbation affects sperm quality or increases the risk of developing prostate cancer. In general masturbation has little to no effect on sperm quality, though there will likely be a drop in ejaculate volume.
- Does a laptop or mobile phone affect my sperm?
Heat has a negative impact on male fertility, and if scrotal temperatures rise significantly then this may also have a negative effect on sperm count and quality. When the laptop is placed on the lap the excess heat may affect the testicles and reduce sperm quality if this is for prolonged periods of time. Try to avoid this habit if you are struggling to conceive.