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The Importance of Male Fertility: What Men Need to Know

When a couple has been trying to conceive for a year or longer without success, fertility issues could be to blame. While the common assumption is that fertility issues are typically female-related, male fertility issues can also be the culprit. Therefore, if you and your partner are not able to get pregnant, a male fertility test may be recommended. Below is a closer look at male fertility, including signs that something is wrong, factors that can affect male fertility, and more.

Understanding Male Fertility

Roughly one in seven couples have fertility concerns. As noted earlier, when a couple is unable to get pregnant, it is more common for people to believe the female in the partnership is the one with fertility issues. However, in as many as 50 percent of cases, issues with male fertility are either the primary problem or at the least a contributing factor in the lack of pregnancy. Research suggests that 9 percent of men have fertility problems, while female fertility issues affect just slightly more women at 11 percent.

Much like females, men face many biological and reproductive factors that can affect their ability to produce sperm effectively. Men can face problems with low sperm count, abnormal sperm production, low sperm motility (movement), and even sperm blockages. These issues can be diagnosed through male fertility testing, but they can have a myriad of causes, including age, illnesses, lifestyle factors, injuries, and even congenital defects.

Factors Affecting Male Fertility

Numerous factors can influence fertility in males. Take a look at a few of the most common factors below.


Fertility naturally declines in males and females with age, but male fertility generally declines at a slower rate. Some studies have shown that conception is 30 percent less likely to occur within a 12-month period if a male partner is more than 40 years of age compared to those under 30. Sperm motility tends to be the most consistent change in men as they age, but sperm count, quality, and semen volume can also decline.

Diet and Nutrition

Poor diet and nutrition can also affect sperm quality. If the male body is not getting the proper vitamins and minerals, sperm quality, motility, and volume may not be as high as expected. Likewise, some foods may have an association with lower sperm count, even though research into the topic is not substantial. For instance, eating processed meats like beef jerky and hot dogs have been linked with altered sperm motility and counts.

Lack of Physical Activity

Not being physically active is known to affect fertility in multiple respects. The outcomes of poor diet and activity can be detrimental to fertility. For example, men who suffer from obesity have a 42 percent higher likelihood of having a lower sperm count than usual for their age. And they are 81 percent more likely to have no sperm production at all. However, these numbers can quickly rebound with weight loss and a low-calorie diet.

Occupational Hazards or Environmental Exposures

Being exposed to certain chemicals or environmental contaminants or hazards can also affect male fertility. Occupational hazards like exposure to radiation as an x-ray tech or exposure to pesticides as an exterminator can affect sperm quality. Exposure to heavy metals like lead can also affect fertility in men. Another often-overlooked occupational hazard is sitting for long periods, which can potentially heighten scrotal temperatures and have a negative effect on sperm.

Underlying Medical Conditions

Numerous medical conditions can have an effect on male fertility. Celiac disease, hormonal issues, and infections are all examples. Certain surgeries and treatments for medical issues can also be problematic. For example, men who have undergone radiation treatment for cancer may have lower fertility. Likewise, men who have undergone major pelvic or abdominal surgery may have lower fertility. Certain medications can also affect male fertility, including drugs like antibiotics and testosterone replacement therapy.

Excessive Alcohol Intake, Drug Use, and Tobacco Use

Consuming alcohol in heavy amounts has long been associated with male fertility issues. Specifically, men who partake in long-term or heavy alcohol consumption are likely to face lower-than-usual testosterone levels and lower production of sperm. Additionally, tobacco, cannabis, and illicit drug use can have a negative impact on sperm count and quality.

Signs and Symptoms of Potential Fertility Issues in Men

The main reason for considering a men’s fertility test is when the male is unable to achieve conception. In many instances, there are no other significant signs or symptoms suggesting a deficiency in sperm production or quality. However, certain symptoms may point to other underlying issues that could impact sperm health. These symptoms are diverse and may include:

  • Sexual dysfunction, such as erectile dysfunction or inability to ejaculate
  • Testicular pain, swelling, or physically visible lumps
  • Recurrent infections
  • Abnormal growth of the male breaths

Since male fertility is so closely tied to overall health, routine health check-ups are especially important when trying to conceive. Most doctors will also offer male fertility testing—if it is a concern for the patient—to get a basic analysis of sperm count.

Tips for Promoting Male Fertility

While there are many things that can negatively affect male fertility, there are also many things men can do to support healthy fertility. Overall, the primary goal should be to lead a relatively healthy lifestyle, which will include routine check-ups to monitor for health conditions and illnesses that could cause problems.

Other ways to support fertility include:

  • Staying active and not sitting for long periods
  • Consuming foods for male fertility support, such as green leafy vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats
  • Not smoking, using illicit drugs, or large amounts of alcohol
  • Monitoring exposure to environmental contaminants such as chemicals or heavy metals
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing stress and working through relationship issues
  • Avoiding tight-fitting underwear or clothing and excessive heat exposure in hot tubs or saunas
  • Taking minerals and vitamins for male fertility support, such as vitamin C, folate, and zinc

When to Consult a Healthcare Professional

If you suspect that you are having fertility issues as a man, it is important to talk to a doctor. Usually, if a pregnancy has not occurred after one year of actively trying, it should be taken as a sign to seek male fertility testing. However, talking to a doctor sooner is best if you experience other symptoms, such as ejaculation issues or testicle pain or swelling. You should also seek a male fertility test if your female partner is aged 35 or older or if you have a history of prostate, testicular, or sexual problems or surgery.

What Happens During a Male Fertility Test?

Male fertility testing generally centers around the semen analysis and, if indicated, some basic hormonal testing. You will be asked about your medical history, and you will be scheduled to provide a sperm sample by ejaculating into a cup. A sperm analysis will be done to examine the volume, concentration, motility and shape of the sperm. If further evaluation is indicated, a physical exam may be done.

The doctor will discuss their findings with you at a follow-up appointment. There are treatments available for male fertility. However, most men can see significant improvements in sperm viability with small adjustments like lifestyle and diet changes. In the event you have an especially low amount of viable sperm, alternative conception options like in-vitro fertilization may be recommended. Sexual function issues may result in an intrauterine insemination procedure.

If you are interested in male fertility testing, reach out to the Fertility Center to schedule a consultation.