If you and your partner have been trying to conceive without success then the first step in the assessment of male fertility is a Semen Analysis. Simply put, this means your semen is analysed in the laboratory. You will receive a report which has details on your sperm count, sperm motility (movement) and sperm morphology (shapes).
But can this one test be accurately relied upon? Are there factors that influence the result or indeed the quality of the sample?
Perhaps the biggest influence, particularly on your first sample is stress. Its not everyday that you are asked to ejaculate into a pot and then hand that pot to a complete stranger.
In fact, studies have shown that samples produced in a clinic environment can be of poorer quality compared to those produced at home (Pound, 2002). If you feel that you will have difficulty producing a sample ‘on-demand’ you should inform your doctor in advance of your appointment.
What can do to ensure your sample is as good as possible? Following these steps will help:
Step 1: Relax
Instead of regarding a semen analysis as the one big test that is going to reveal all, look at the information it will give. After this test you will know whether or not you’re producing sperm. You will also discover how fast they swim and how they look under a microscope. Even if your results are poor the cause can be investigated and in most cases sperm counts and motility can be improved.
Step 2: Don’t spill
The first portion of the ejaculate contains the highest concentration of sperm. Therefore, loosing this portion will influence the result. Any spillage should be reported to the lab so that it can be taken into consideration when interpreting your result.
Step 3: Know your Abstinence
You will be asked when you last ejaculated prior to the analysis. This is not because the lab staff are nosey, again this is a factor that may be taken into consideration when interpreting your result. It is recommended that you ejaculate 2 to 4 days before the analysis and then abstain until the day of your test. A long period of abstinence will lead to increased numbers of poor quality sperm in the sample.
Step 4: Be aware that variations in sample quality are normal
Studies have shown that semen analysis results for the same individual can vary significantly over time. There are a number of factors that can influence the result from lifestyle to diet to abstinence period or illness. (Alvarez, 2003)
Step 5: Don’t panic
If your first result is poor you can always have another test to check the result. Simple diet and lifestyle changes can hugely impact on sperm production. Sperm are produced in a 3-month cycle so it can take this length of time to see changes in sperm quality.
If semen analysis results vary even among individuals, then why is this test relied upon?
The simple answer is that it’s the best test currently available to assess male fertility. It will give a general indication of the mans fertility level. A semen sample produced ‘on-demand’ may not be of the same quality as one produced during intercourse. Men with low sperm counts can successfully father children. Even if millions of sperm are ejaculated we know that only a few hundred of these make it to the fallopian tubes and only one can fertilise an egg.
- A semen analysis result should be taken as one part of the puzzle when determining a couples fertility level.
- A woman should not go through expensive tests or hormonal therapy without knowing the fertility level of her partner.
- One in 6 Irish couples are currently experiencing difficulty conceiving and in 40% of cases there is a male factor involved.
At Simply Conceive semen analysis are carried out according to the World Health Organisation guidelines and results are available within a few hours of your appointment.
Alvarez, C. (2003). Biological variation of seminal parameters in healthy subjects. Human Reproduction, 2082-2088.
Pound, N. (2002). Duration of sexual arousal predicts semen parameters for masturbatory ejaculates. Physiology and Behaviour, 685-89.