Male fertility: an overview

The male reproductive system is an intricate system that needs multiple things to happen correctly in order for it to work. When any of these things go wrong, it can impair male fertility, and lower the chances of conceiving.

Male reproductive organs

Male fertility starts with the reproductive organs, which include the testicles, duct system, accessory glands, and the penis. Each male reproductive organ plays a part to make sperm and transport it outside the body. During sexual intercourse, once sperm is released, semen can travel through the female reproductive system and fertilize the egg.

Fertility and infertility

For pregnancy to occur, sperm has to reach and combine with the egg. If a couple is having difficulty conceiving, the man’s fertility is usually tested first as it’s easier and less expensive to test male fertility than female.

In couples who have trouble conceiving, male factors are responsible about ⅓ of the time. Possible fertility problems include low sperm count, poor sperm motility, hormone problems, infection, physical abnormalities, side effects from certain medications, injuries, and lifestyle factors.

To determine if male factor infertility is the problem, men meet with their providers and describe their medical history. The provider then performs a physical exam, and will normally order a semen analysis to check sperm quality. If the results still aren’t clear, a doctor may check a man’s hormone levels or test the sperm further.

Treatments for male infertility

Treatment depends mainly on the cause of fertility problems, but in general, certain lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery can often improve male infertility.

  • Lifestyle changes: Being at a healthy weight, avoiding recreational drugs and cigarettes, avoiding lubricants during sex while TTC, and eating a balanced diet with a variety of nutrients can all improve the odds that a man will have a healthy sperm count and good sperm mobility. For others, especially those who are experiencing erectile dysfunction, counseling might be a good place to start depending on what their provider recommends.
  • Surgery or medication: Some men undergo surgery, while others take antibiotics for infections, or hormone treatments or medications to balance out hormone problems.

The basics of male fertility don’t vary from person to person, but an individual’s fertility is highly specific to his medical history and personal state of health. Today more than ever, male infertility is less of a lifelong problem than it has been in the past, and medical advancements have made it so that in many cases male infertility can be treated. Many couples who have faced difficulties with their fertility are eventually able to conceive successfully.

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  • “Diagnostic Testing for Male Factor Infertility.” Patient Fact Sheet from American Society for Reproductive Medicine, 2008. Web.
  • “What treatment options are available for male infertility?” NIH. US Department of Health and Human Services, Nov 30 2012. Web.
  • Ranjit S. Sandhu, Timothy H. Wong, Crystal A. Kling, Kazim R. Chohan. “In vitro effects of coital lubricants and synthetic and natural oils on sperm motility.” Fertility and Sterility. 101(4) 941-944. Web. Apr 2014.
  • “Male Reproductive System.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, 2016. Web.
  • “Male infertility.” AttainFertiilty. IntegraMed America, 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Low sperm count.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Jul 15 2015. Web.  
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