Understanding male fertility
Apart from a woman’s age, healthy sperm can be the biggest fertility issue for couples. To conceive a healthy baby, the male partner needs to produce a good amount of normal sperm, and be able to ejaculate them during sexual intercourse.
Typically, more than 20 million sperm/ml needs to be present in the semen for natural conception, and more than half of those need to move forward quickly, with at least 10% a normal shape.
Male infertility affects almost half of all infertile couples, so it’s important to understand how the male reproductive system works.
Sperm and testosterone are both produced in the testes. Sperm then pass slowly through a long coiled channel called the epididymis, where they mature so they can swim and penetrate an egg cell. They then travel via the vas deferens to the urethra and out of the penis as they are ejaculated.
A sperm’s structure includes the head, which contains the genetic material needed for fertilisation (or conception), and a tail for propulsion towards the female egg. The entire process of sperm formation takes about 72 days. Serious illness during this time can affect sperm quality and production for up to three months.
What causes problems with sperm?
For about half the couples we see, there are problems with sperm in the male partners. Sometimes this condition may have been inherited; sometimes there are hormonal imbalances or an obstructed pathway. The good news is that there are treatments available to use whatever sperm may be available to conceive a baby successfully.
It is also clear that healthy men produce healthy sperm. Smoking and recreational drugs upset sperm quality, and men who are overweight or who work in toxic environments are more likely to have reduced quality semen.
Men’s reproductive health is also affected by age. After the age of 40, a greater number of DNA abnormalities occur in sperm.