Why is my sperm health important?
You might not think about the quality of your sperm until you try to start a family. It takes your body around 3 months to make new sperm, so it’s important to be as healthy as possible before you and your partner try to become pregnant.
What is healthy sperm?
Your sperm health is measured by 3 things:
- Amount of sperm: You need large quantities of sperm to increase the chance of fertilising an egg through sexual intercourse. The number of sperm you have is called your sperm count.
- Movement: Your sperm need to move forward so they can find the egg. This is called sperm motility.
- Shape: Your sperm should be normally shaped when they are viewed under a microscope. This is called sperm morphology.
Sperm movement and shape are most closely linked with fertility.
How do I know if my sperm are healthy?
If you and your partner are having trouble getting pregnant, your doctor may recommend a sperm test (semen analysis). This is because around 1 in 3 cases of infertility are caused by problems with male fertility.
Semen analysis involves giving a sample of semen to be tested in the lab for sperm count, size, shape and movement. A normal semen analysis result shows a sperm count of at least 15 million sperm per mL, with at least one third of sperm showing forward movement.
What factors can affect my sperm health?
Sperm are created in the testes (testicles). They travel through the male reproductive system and mix with fluid (semen) made by the prostate gland and organs called the seminal vesicles. Sperm are ejaculated during orgasm.
The health of your sperm can be affected by:
- Your age: If you are over 45, you are likely to have fewer healthy sperm than when you were younger. If you are older, you will also most likely produce less semen. Your sperm quality, sperm count and sperm motility (movement) might also be lower than when you were younger.
- Smoking: Smoking lowers your sperm count and the amount of semen you produce. The more you smoke, the lower the quality of your sperm. Even smoking fewer than 10 cigarettes a day affects your sperm health and increases the chance your baby will develop leukaemia.
- Being overweight: If you are overweight or obese, you are likely to have a lower sperm count and sperm that don’t move as well. You are also likely to have more abnormal sperm. Being overweight can also affect the genes in the sperm that will be passed on to your baby.
- Alcohol: The occasional drink is unlikely to affect your fertility, however heavy drinking can reduce sperm quality, lower testosterone production, and make it harder to achieve an erection.
- Sexually transmitted infections: Having a sexually transmitted infection (STIs) including gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis or genital warts can interfere with normal function of your reproductive system. Most STIs are easy to treat, so speak with your doctor early to increase your chance of a successful pregnancy. When you get treatment for your STI, you will also reduce the chance of spreading the STI to your partner.
- Drugs: Medicines and illegal drugs can affect your ability to produce quality sperm. If you are receiving treatment for cancer, talk with your doctor about storing sperm for later. Taking anabolic steroids may cause permanent harm to your sperm production.
- Environmental and occupational hazards: TToxic products such as pesticides, chemicals, radiation and heavy metals can affect the quantity and quality of your sperm. It’s best to avoid exposure before you try to conceive. If your work brings you into contact with toxic substances, make sure you strictly follow occupational health and safety regulations.
- Heat: Your testicles should be a couple of degrees cooler than body temperature to keep producing good quality sperm. Avoid hot baths and spas and wear loose fitting underwear to keep your scrotum cool.
How can I keep my sperm healthy?
It’s never too early to start looking after your sperm. If you want to conceive, the best way to help keep your sperm healthy, is by living a healthy lifestyle.
This may include:
- reaching a healthy weight
- eating a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- not smoking
- drinking alcohol in moderation
You can also protect your sperm by:
- avoiding sports injuries to your groin by wearing protective gear
- wearing loose fitting underwear
- not having hot baths
- not putting your computer or phone on your lap
- not taking anabolic steroids
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: June 2022