Male fertility is more than just a numbers game
About fifty percent of fertility issues are attributed to men. If you have a male partner and are interested in learning more about male fertility, start here. Chances are, if you’ve already started looking into male fertility, you’ve probably heard the phrase “sperm count” a few times. Although maintaining an ideal sperm count when trying to conceive is important, there are other factors that contribute to male fertility.
Testing, testing 1, 2, 3 (and 4 and 5 and 6 and so on…)
Regularly testing sperm count can provide your partner with information about his lifestyle choices. It can be helpful for him to think of sperm count testing the way he’d think about tracking his heart rate during exercise — but instead, he’s testing to get into elite, sperm-producing shape.
Finding the right test is an important first step. Labcorp OnDemand offers a comprehensive suite of fertility tests, and their new Men’s Rapid Fertility Test can help provide personalized fertility data. It’s FDA-cleared, at-home, and allows for fast, easy, and private assessment of two key factors in male fertility: sperm concentration (one way of estimating sperm count) and semen volume, giving your partner a clearer picture of his fertility status and whether certain lifestyle changes should be made. Furthermore, it tests sperm count over the previous 8-12 weeks as well, providing an even more detailed picture of lifestyle factors over recent months.
So how often should he test?
When your partner first gets the kit, test the sperm twice, about a week or so apart. Since sperm count can fluctuate for a lot of reasons, testing twice will help establish a “baseline average” out the gate. After that, it’s recommended to test every 2-3 months (the average amount of time for new sperm to develop).
Is there anything specific I should do while testing?
While testing, your partner should abstain from ejaculation for the same amount of time before each test. Labcorp OnDemand recommends 2-7 days. So if he waited three days the first time, wait three days every time.
How often should my partner and I be having sex during this period?
Ultimately, having sex every other day during the fertile window optimizes the chances of getting pregnant. Lifestyle and health factors are very much in play during this time period, so it’s best for both you and your partner to understand your overall health, not just your reproductive health.
After implementing lifestyle changes, many men start to see improvements starting after one month, but because it takes sperm a while to fully develop, it may take two months or longer to see meaningful increases after implementing health and/or lifestyle changes. Just keep testing and monitoring to have the clearest picture.
There’s always more to learn about male fertility
After the test, your partner will have good information to make informed decisions about health and lifestyle factors that may be impacting his reproductive health and fertility. This test alone can’t confirm fertility or infertility, but he may learn about things disrupting testicular or ejaculatory function, which he can share with his healthcare provider to see if further testing or semen analysis is necessary.
Infertility in men is caused by many factors, and semen analysis is designed to evaluate this. These kinds of tests analyze the number of sperm (concentration), motility (movement), and morphology (shape). A specialist assesses them and will be the first to tell you that a slightly abnormal semen analysis does not indicate infertility.
As always, when your partner gets the test results, he should speak about them with his doctor to determine if anything is impacting his testicular function.
So, what are some things that can impact sperm count?
According to the CDC, these are the main things that may disrupt testicular or ejaculatory function:
- Varicocele: a condition in which the veins within the testicle are enlarged. Although there are usually no symptoms, they may affect the number or the shape of the sperm.
- Trauma to the testicles: any damage or injury to the testes may impact sperm production and result in a lower number of sperm.
- Substance use: heavy alcohol use, smoking, anabolic steroid use, and illicit drug use can impact sperm numbers.
- Cancer treatment: certain types of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to remove a testicle may impact fertility.
- Medical conditions: testicular failure may be caused by diabetes, cystic fibrosis, certain types of autoimmune disorders, and certain types of infections.
Furthermore, hormonal disorders—specifically concerning the function of the hypothalamus or pituitary glands—may result in low or no sperm production. Genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome, Y-chromosome microdeletion, myotonic dystrophy, and others may cause no or low sperm numbers.
So what should we do if one of the test results is abnormal?
First things first, speak with your doctor. The results don’t necessarily mean that an infertility diagnosis is on the horizon. It’s good to try to keep a positive mindset and remember that an abnormal test result is just one step on this journey.
For an abnormal semen analysis result, likely a secondary semen analysis will be ordered or recommended by your doctor. Labcorp OnDemand’s test offers the privacy of testing within the comfort of your own home, so let your doctor know if that’s something you prefer. If your partner has already started implementing lifestyle changes, he should wait at least three months before the next semen analysis. Again, it takes time for new sperm to form—about three months, in fact.
In the meantime, your partner can continue testing during attempts at conception. To make sure you don’t run low on supplies, Labcorp OnDemand also offers a Men’s Rapid Fertility Test Refill Kit —complete with extra collection tools—to help.
Improve his fertility, improve your chances
Frequent testing isn’t the only thing to do in the meantime. Making specific lifestyle and health changes can help your partner’s chances of fertility and a higher sperm count. Now that he can measure it, he can try to improve it.
Sperm count is kind of a unique health parameter, in that it can rise and fall, ebb and flow for a lot of different reasons. The sooner your partner can take steps to improve his fertility, the better his chances of success.
So what can he do?
You’ll find a lot of the recommendations for optimizing sperm production are just general health recommendations:
- Eat better
- Be more active
- Quit smoking (no, really: quit)
- Avoid excessive alcohol/drug use
- Ditch the anabolic steroids
- Stay out of the hot tub
- Stay off a mountain bike (or other seats that put pressure on him)
Mental and emotional health also play a role. Psychological issues like performance anxiety are very treatable. As usual, speak with a doctor if any issues like these arise.
As for next steps, relax and know that between your doctor and trusted diagnostic partners like Labcorp OnDemand, there’s a full range of testing, information, and resources to help you and your partner in your very own fertility journey. Good luck!