Test and Learn and Improve Your Odds: Tracking Male Fertility as a Part of Family Planning
Male fertility is more than just a numbers game
About fifty percent of fertility issues are attributed to men. Probably the most familiar phrase regarding male fertility is “sperm count.” If you’re trying to conceive with your partner, likely this phrase dominates your side of the equation. That’s because maintaining an ideal sperm count when trying to conceive is fairly crucial in raising the chances of conception. But, there are of course several factors that create an overall picture of male fertility.
Testing, testing 1, 2, 3 (and 4 and 5 and 6 and so on…)
So, yes, sperm count is important. And you are its greatest supplier.
At the end of the day, testing your sperm count frequently when you’re wanting to conceive can provide you with information to help inform lifestyle choices. Think of sperm count testing the way you think about tracking your heart rate during exercise - but instead of making sure you're in the right heart rate zone, you’re going to test yourself to get into elite, sperm-producing shape.
Finding the right test is an important first step. At Labcorp, we offer a comprehensive suite of fertility tests, and our new Men’s Rapid Fertility Test can help provide you with personalized fertility data. It’s FDA-cleared, at-home and allows for fast, easy and private assessment of two key factors in male fertility: sperm concentration (one way of estimating sperm count) and semen volume, giving you a clearer picture of your fertility status and whether or not certain lifestyle changes should be made. Furthermore, it tests your sperm count over the previous 8-12 weeks as well, so you can get an even more detailed picture of lifestyle factors over recent months.
So how often should I test?
When you first get the kit, test yourself twice, about a week or so apart. This is because sperm counts can fluctuate for a lot of reasons, so testing twice will help you establish a “baseline average” out the gate. After that, it is recommended to test every 2-3 months (the average amount of time for new sperm to develop).
Is there anything specific I should do while testing?
While testing, abstain from ejaculation the same amount of time before each test. We recommend 2-7 days. So if you waited three days the first time, wait three days every time. The regular monthly test schedule mentioned above gives you a good data set to track your count over time.
How often should I and my partner be having sex during this period?
Ultimately, having sex every other day during her fertile window will optimize your chances of getting pregnant. Lifestyle and health factors are very much in play during this time period, so it’s best to understand your overall health, not just your reproductive health.
You’ll learn more about lifestyle changes you can make to improve your chances later in this blog. But, for now, know that many men start to see improvements from these changes starting after one month, but because it takes sperm a while to fully develop, it may take two months or longer to see meaningful increases after implementing health and/or lifestyle changes. Just keep testing and monitoring to have the clearest picture.
There’s always more to learn about male fertility
After you test, you’re going to have good information to make informed decisions about health and lifestyle factors that may be impacting your reproductive health and fertility. However, this test alone can’t confirm fertility or infertility. But, you may learn about things disrupting your testicular or ejaculatory function, which you can share with your healthcare provider to see if further testing or semen analysis is necessary.
Infertility in men is caused by many different factors, and a semen analysis like the one described above is designed to evaluate this. These kinds of tests analyze the number of sperm (concentration), motility (movement) and morphology (shape). A specialist assesses them and will be the first to tell you that a slightly abnormal semen analysis does not indicate infertility.
As always, when you get test results, speak about them with your doctor to determine if anything is impacting your testicular function.
So, what are some things that can impact my sperm count?
According to the CDC, the following are the main things disrupting testicular or ejaculatory function:
- Varicocele: this is a condition in which the veins within the testicle are enlarged. Although there are usually no symptoms, they may affect the number or the shape of the sperm.
- Trauma to the testicles: any damage or injury to the testes may affect sperm production and result in lower number of sperm.
- Substance use: heavy alcohol use, smoking, anabolic steroid use, and illicit drug use can affect sperm numbers.
- Cancer treatment: certain types of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to remove a testicle may impact fertility.
- Medical conditions: testicular failure may be caused by diabetes, cystic fibrosis, certain types of autoimmune disorders and certain types of infections.
Furthermore, hormonal disorders—specifically concerning the function of the hypothalamus or pituitary glands—may result in low or no sperm production. Genetic conditions such as Klinefelter syndrome, Y-chromosome microdeletion, myotonic dystrophy, and others may cause no or low sperm numbers.
So what should I do if one of my test results is abnormal?
First things first, speak with your doctor. It doesn’t necessarily indicate anything above or that an infertility diagnosis is on the horizon. It’s good to try and keep a positive mindset and remember that an abnormal test result is just one step on this journey.
For an abnormal semen analysis result, likely a secondary semen analysis will be ordered or recommended by your doctor. Our test offers you the privacy of testing within the comfort of your own home, so let your doctor know if that’s something you prefer. If you’ve already started implementing lifestyle changes, wait at least three months before your next semen analysis. Again, it takes time for new sperm to form—about three months, in fact.
In the meantime, continue testing during attempts at conception. To make sure you don’t run low on supplies, we also offer a Men’s Rapid Fertility Test Refill Kit —complete with extra collection tools—to help.
Improve your fertility, improve your chances
Frequent testing isn’t the only thing to do in the meantime. Making specific lifestyle and health changes can help improve your chances of fertility and a normal sperm count. Now that you can measure it, you can try to improve it.
Sperm count is kind of a unique health parameter, in that it can rise and fall, ebb and flow for a lot of different reasons. In the end, focus on the things you’re empowered to change. The sooner you can take steps to improve your fertility, the better your chances of success.
So what can I do?
That’s the best attitude: focusing on the things you can do. You’ll find a lot of the recommendations for optimizing your sperm production are just general health recommendations:
- Eat better
- Be more active
- Quit smoking (no, really: quit)
- Avoid excessive alcohol/drug use
- Ditch the anabolic steroids
- Stay out of the hot tub
- Stay off your mountain bike (or other seats that put pressure on you down there)
- Try to lose weight if your BMI is above normal
Mental and emotional health also play roles. Psychological issues like performance anxiety are very treatable as well. Per usual, speak with your doctor if any issues like these arise.
As for next steps, relax and know that between your doctor and trusted diagnostic partners like us, we’ve got a full range of testing, information and resources to help you in your very own fertility journey. Good luck!