What is Male Infertility?
When many people think of infertility, the first thought they have is that infertility is a woman’s problem, or that if a woman can’t get pregnant, it must be due to a health issue she’s facing.
But what many people don’t realize is that infertility occurs in men, too. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, about male infertility statistics are similar to female infertility numbers.
Approximately one-third of infertility cases can be attributed to issues with male reproductive health.
Considering that female reproductive issues are the cause of one-third of infertility cases, you could say that male infertility is just as common, though often not publicly discussed.
So, what exactly is male infertility? Any health issue that makes it difficult for a man to get a partner pregnant is considered male infertility.
In some situations, male infertility can be attributed to a lack of sperm, blocked sperm, or hormone imbalances.
Common male fertility symptoms include swelling or pain in the testicles, difficulty having or maintaining an erection, or the inability to ejaculate.
Causes of Male Infertility
There are a variety of reasons why a man may have difficulty getting a partner pregnant.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, the types of male infertility fall into four categories:
- Sperm transport disorders that make it difficult for sperm to make their way from the testicles. This includes a variety of issues such as premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, or a low sperm count.
- Gonad/testicular disorders that impact the testes, which produce sperm and hormones necessary for fertility.
- Common issues in this category that can cause infertility include low testosterone production, testicular cancer, past injuries to the testicles, or inflammation within the testicles caused by sexually transmitted infections or bacteria. In many cases, having a varicocele — an abnormal number of veins above the testicles — is one common cause of male infertility that can be corrected.
- Hypothalamic or pituitary disorders can make it difficult for some men to produce enough testosterone or other hormones necessary for creating healthy sperm. Some men being treated for unrelated health issues with anabolic steroids or anti-seizure medications can also have difficulty with male infertility.
- Unknown causes, unfortunately, can make it difficult for fertility specialists and men to successfully treat male infertility. Working with a fertility specialist to undergo an infertility evaluation and rule out the three other types of male infertility is a good start when undergoing treatment.
Being diagnosed with male infertility can be upsetting and frustrating, but there are treatments available. Having a fertility evaluation male test completed may be able to give you the answers you are looking for.
What is a Male Fertility Test and What Does It Measure?
If you think you may have male infertility, you may be wondering what to do next.
While a fertility specialist can help you create a specific plan to explore potential male infertility, there are some basic tests that can be performed. The most common starting place is a sperm fertility test.
So, how does a man get his sperm count checked? Male fertility tests that observe semen are a great start at exploring the chances and potential causes of male infertility.
This kind of fertility test for men, also called semen analysis, is performed by examining a semen sample.
During this test, a lab technician is looking at a man’s sperm to see how high or low the concentration of sperm is, and if there are any sperm abnormalities.
What Male Fertility Testing Can and Can’t Tell Us
There are different kinds of male fertility tests, and they can provide a variety of answers.
The most common form of male fertility testing is semen analysis, and despite some limitations, is a strong starting place for men who believe they may be infertile.
These tests, also called sperm count tests, can tell you the number of sperm in your ejaculate, the shape of the sperm, and the sperm’s ability to move.
This kind of testing also observes the volume of ejaculate and other factors, such as pH and fructose levels, to determine if sperm are at all a factor in causing infertility.
Other kinds of male fertility tests include hormone tests and genetic fertility tests. Hormone tests provided by your doctor can determine if imbalances in hormones, such as testosterone, are impacting sperm production.
In addition, genetic fertility tests can be used to find out if inherited genetic factors have an impact on fertility; for example, chromosomal abnormalities and being a male carrier of cystic fibrosis genes can impact male fertility.
While these tests are beneficial, they do have limitations. When it comes to all three kinds of tests, you should know that they can’t tell you exactly how fertile your sperm are.
In addition, even semen analysis can’t determine if a man’s sperm are able to actually fertilize an egg.
And, all three kinds of testing do not account for the changes that sperm undergo during sex and before fertilizing an egg.
Because a portion of male infertility cases are attributed to unknown causes, it’s possible to receive positive test results but still not have infertility treatment options.
When is a Male Fertility Test Needed?
Male fertility testing is a useful tool when a couple is having difficulty getting pregnant. You may want to consider taking a male fertility test if:
- You’re 35 or older. As men age, their bodies produce less and lower-quality sperm; with male fertility age is a factor, just like with women
- You and your partner have been trying to get pregnant for six months, but have not conceived
- You have had a vasectomy or a reversed vasectomy, and want to know if sperm is still able to travel from the testes
Types of Male Fertility Tests Available
There are several types of male fertility tests available; you and your doctor can work together to determine which tests can be most beneficial.
In most cases, fertility specialists will start off with a semen analysis before moving onto other types of male fertility tests.
Semen analysis is the examination of a semen sample. Semen tests are available over-the-counter to be taken in the privacy of your home, as well as through a doctor’s office for more in-depth results.
Semen analysis parameters
If your doctor recommends a semen analysis test, it’s because they want to look at various factors that could impact your ability to get a partner pregnant. Here’s what a fertility specialist is looking for:
- The number of sperm (also called sperm concentration); a normal sperm count concentration is between 15 and 20 million sperm per milliliter of semen
- The shape of the sperm (referred to as sperm morphology); sperm that have an unusual size or shape could be the cause of male infertility, and doctors are looking to see that at least 4% of sperm are shaped normally
- How the sperm move (commonly called sperm motility); how well sperm move and how many are moving impacts fertility, and a fertility specialist will want to see at least 50% of the sample sperm being moving, active sperm
- Other factors, such as the volume of ejaculate, pH levels, and fructose level
Over-the-counter sperm tests
If you’re not ready to make an appointment with a fertility doctor, you can get more clues into your fertility health by using an at-home sperm test.
These over-the-counter sperm tests can be purchased at drug stores or online, and work by detecting proteins found in sperm.
Home male fertility tests will not give you the same results of a semen analysis test but can be a good starting place in determining if you have low sperm concentration.
The best at-home male fertility tests now offer computer or smartphone apps that can further explain your results.
Clinical Semen Analysis
Clinical semen analysis tests are much more accurate than home male fertility tests because they give a larger picture by examining more than just sperm concentration.
And generally, these tests have a higher level of accuracy thanks to the analysis by fertility specialists in combination with the multiple testing parameters.
Hormone testing can be a benefit for men with infertility issues since it can narrow in as to why sperm production is low.
This form of testing relies on a blood draw, which can measure the amount of testosterone (and other hormones that affect sperm production) present.
Genetic Fertility Testing
Because some inherited genetic conditions, such as cystic fibrosis, can impact male fertility, genetic fertility testing is also a useful tool.
Blood drawn for these tests can reveal the presence of a genetic or chromosomal abnormality that impacts a man’s fertility.
Other Male Fertility Testing Options
There are other kinds of testing that can be used to rule out causes of male infertility, including:
- STI testing, since infections such as gonorrhea and chlamydia can impact fertility
- Scrotal ultrasounds, which identify blockages or tissue issues inside the male reproductive system
- Post-ejaculation urinalysis, which uses a urine sample to determine if sperm are misdirected and traveling into the bladder thanks to a condition called retrograde ejaculation
- Testicular biopsy, where sperm is collected from the testicles to determine if sperm production is occurring
Many men wonder if there is a way to check male fertility naturally. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to determine if you’re fertile beyond getting a partner pregnant.
Preparing for a Male Fertility Test
Getting ready to take a male fertility test doesn’t have to be stressful, but it is important to follow rules set by your doctor or fertility specialist.
In general, how you prepare for a male fertility test depends on what kind of test you are undergoing.
- Semen analysis tests: You will need to abstain from sex or masturbation for three to five days, but no more than seven days. It’s also a good idea to cut back on alcohol and caffeine and to be well-rested.
- Hormone and genetic testing: Because these tests require blood draws, there’s not much to do in preparation, though it doesn’t hurt to be well-rested and focused on proper diet and exercise.
- Ultrasounds and biopsies: Depending on what your doctor is looking for, they’ll inform you whether or not you should not masturbate or have sex in the days leading up to the test.
Where to Get a Male Fertility Test
Fertility clinics don’t just cater to female clients; in fact, they’re one of the best places to get help with male fertility.
That’s because these clinics specialize in treating infertility, and have the best tools and tests available to determine the cause of infertility.
If you’re not ready to make an appointment at a fertility clinic, your general practitioner or regularly visited doctor may be able to help you with scheduling a variety of male fertility tests.
Male Fertility Test Cost
Male fertility testing ranges in cost, but it can be much cheaper than attempting IVF or other fertility treatments that aren’t getting to the source of the problem.
On average, semen analysis tests range anywhere from $50 to $300 based on where you live. Many men wonder, “Does insurance cover sperm analysis?”
Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. Some insurance providers that offer coverage for IVF and other fertility treatments may also cover sperm analysis, though not all insurance providers do.
Interpreting Male Fertility Test Results
The results of a male fertility test will vary by the kind of test you take. If you choose to have a doctor analyze your semen, hormone levels, or genetics, they will be able to walk you through the results and what steps to take next.
Generally, men with abnormal sperm analysis tests can focus on boosting their semen quality and quantity through a doctor’s suggestions or may seek out treatment to balance hormones or break up testicular blockages.
In some cases, men have normal sperm analysis results; in these cases, your doctor may recommend further tests to ensure the sperm are able to leave the body successfully.
What to Do Next
After getting back your fertility test results, a doctor will be able to set up a treatment plan to help improve your chances of getting a partner pregnant.
In cases where you receive abnormal test results, it may be necessary to find ways to boost sperm quality and quantity or to balance hormones that help sperm production.
And in situations where test results come back as “normal,” but you are still infertile, your fertility doctor may move onto other test methods or determine ways to improve your fertility odds.
Ways to Improve Sperm Quality
In many cases, doctors will recommend a variety of changes that can help boost a man’s fertility, including:
- Kicking the smoking habit
- Avoiding hot tubs or baths
- Wearing loose-fighting undergarments
- Taking control of health conditions such as diabetes or STIs
- Eating foods rich in antioxidants
- Working towards a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and exercise
- Having more sex
In addition, some men look towards male fertility supplements as an early form of male infertility treatment.
Common male fertility supplements include fenugreek capsules, D-aspartic acid, and vitamins C and D, as well as branded fertility vitamins and supplements.
Male Infertility Support & Resources
Finding out that you may need treatment for male infertility can be frustrating and scary, but there are a variety of support resources that can ease your mind and give you more information.
If you’re looking to learn more about male infertility, consider these reputable resources:
- Male infertility support groups in your area can be a good resource at meeting other men who are coping with infertility. These groups can give you a chance to meet and learn from others who are undergoing similar conditions.
- Infertility organizations such as the National Fertility Association, The Amerian Pregnancy Association, and the Cleveland Clinic for Male Infertility can provide more information on male infertility.
- Medical organizations that research male infertility, such as the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health are leaders in research for a variety of fertility issues. Exploring organizations like these can clue you into advances in male infertility research.
- Building a support network of your own can also be a benefit. Speaking with family members or close friends about infertility can help you feel supported, but may also clue you into genetic health conditions that could impact your fertility.
Male infertility is often treatable, and in many cases, men are able to become biological fathers after successful treatment.
If you are working through male infertility, know that you have options and that you’re not alone.