About 15% of couples in the United States struggle to conceive. You may be surprised that male infertility is the issue in over half of these cases.
There are many causes of male infertility ranging from genetic reasons to physical injury. But what if it was something rooted in your habits? Masturbation is one the first things that comes to mind as a habit that would disrupt fertility.
But is this claim scientifically backed?
Does masturbation really cause infertility in men?
First, there are many causes of male infertility. And you’ll need to understand how sperm production affects fertility. You may also be curious about what masturbation is doing to your fertility. We’ll explain this along with how to get a semen analysis to see where your swimmers stand — and how to increase your fertility.
Sperm Count and Production
Before we dive into the subject of male infertility, we need to understand the life-giving seed — sperm.
Sperm production (spermatogenesis) begins in puberty and continues for the rest of your life. The testes can produce up to 100 million sperm per day. Sperm cells need 74 days to mature before they can swim.
During the maturation process, sperm goes through many divisions which creates genetic variation. The body stores these mature sperm in a tube-like structure called the epididymis found in the back of the testicles.
Waiting nearly 3 months for viable sperm is a long time. Surely, you’d want to save your precious swimmers, right? You’re probably wondering:
Does semen retention benefit fertility?
Sperm is stored in the testes until release. But the longer it waits, the more its quality declines. Any excess sperm is reabsorbed into the testes. There’s no hard evidence that suggests semen retention benefits fertility.
But don’t go off blowing your load to X-rated videos. We need to answer an important question:
Does porn affect sperm quality?
It might surprise you that the answer is nuanced. Porn can both help and harm sperm count.
How does it help? Well, studies have shown that porn can improve sperm quality. This may be due to the novelty. Seeing a new partner to “mate” with can evoke feelings of anticipation. This is beneficial for sperm quality.
Porn can become compulsive. If you’re overdoing it when your sperm count is already low, this can pose a problem. Emptying the tank without letting it regenerate has a negative effect on your ability to conceive.
Understanding Male Infertility
Here’s the official definition of male infertility according to the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM):
Failure to reach clinical pregnancy after at least 12 months of consistent unprotected sex is defined as male infertility. This is assuming that the female in question is fertile.
It’s recommended to get a fertility evaluation before the 12-month period if you’re concerned. Women over 36 and men that have gone through chemotherapy should also get evaluated.
Causes of Male Infertility
There are several factors that could lead to male infertility. It could be something you’re born with (congenital defects) or it could be acquired through your lifestyle and environment.
Here are a few causes of male infertility:
- Low sperm production: Low sperm production is also known as oligospermia. This is a condition in which there are less than 15 million sperm per ml of semen. Heat, obesity, excessive sitting, and alcohol are some causes of this.
- Frequent ejaculation: Very frequent ejaculation can cause sperm count to decrease temporarily.
- Non-motile (not moving) sperm: This could be the result of genetics or a lifestyle choice such as smoking.
- Abnormal sperm: Morphology refers to the shape and size of sperm cells. Defective sperm production is characterized by a high percentage of abnormal sperm in a man’s ejaculate.
- Blockage: This refers to blockages that prevent the delivery of sperm to the semen.
- Hormone disorders: Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) tells your testicles to make sperm. If you have a high amount of this, but you’re not making sperm something may be wrong with your pituitary gland.
- Medication: Many body-building, anti-aging, and male enhancement medications have been associated with lower sperm count.
- Injury: Injury or infection to organs involved with sperm production can affect sperm count.
- Sexual dysfunction: Porn-induced erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, premature ejaculation, and penile bend fall into this category.
- Drugs: Excessive alcohol has been known to lower testosterone and sperm production. High doses of tobacco and THC (marijuana) also decrease sperm count.
Many of these conditions can result from illness, infection, injury, chronic health conditions, or exposure to chemicals and pollution. They can permanently or temporarily affect your sperm and ability to conceive.
The Effect of Frequent Masturbation on Male Fertility
Many people are confused about what the truth is regarding masturbation and male fertility. This is because of all the myths out there.
There’s a common understanding that masturbation has a negative effect on sperm quality. Ejaculating alone doesn’t harm your sperm quality more than it would with a partner.
This is where the question shifts. Instead of asking if frequent masturbation affects fertility — we should ask the following:
Does excessive ejaculation affect fertility?
Consistent ejaculation (around 3 to 4 times a week) is good for sperm health. Healthy sperm have good motility (swimming ability) and morphology (shape). Motility allows the sperm to reach the egg. Morphology, namely the shape of the sperm’s head allows it to penetrate the egg.
All it takes is one sperm to achieve pregnancy. But if sperm quality is poor, it’ll be hard to find even one good sperm in a load of millions.
Abstaining for 2-3 days produces optimal sperm. During IVF (In vitro fertilization) treatments, doctors advise abstaining for 3 days before giving a sperm sample.
Masturbation and fertility don’t have a direct link. Excessive sex or masturbation lowers your sperm count temporarily until your body can produce more. If you feel concerned, give it a rest for a few days and your sperm will regenerate.
But don’t abstain for too long. According to Renata Finelli an embryologist at Create Fertility, prolonged abstinence lowers sperm quality. It puts increased oxidative stress on the sperm and DNA fragmentation occurs. This lowers the quality of sperm motility and morphology.
Benefits of Masturbation
If you have a positive relationship with masturbation, it has benefits. This is assuming you’re not masturbating with porn. If you’ve been refraining because you think it’s affecting your fertility, you may want to reconsider.
Here are some benefits of regular masturbation:
- Stress reduction: Sex and masturbation release endorphins and inhibit cortisol.
- It gives your immune system a boost: Studies have shown that masturbation can improve your immune system.
- Better sex: Masturbation makes you comfortable in your own skin. You can explore your desires safely, allowing you to communicate them to your partner effectively. Masturbation also primes you to feel sexual sensations and increases blood flow to your genitals.
- Lowers the risk of heart disease: According to the American Journal of Cardiology, having sex less than once a month can increase your risk of heart disease.
- Improved sleep: Ejaculation stimulates the release of chemicals that promote the onset of sleep.
Remember, masturbating every now and then will temporarily lower your sperm count. This doesn’t have a long-term bearing on your fertility!
Get a Semen Analysis
A semen analysis measures the quantity and quality of a man’s ejaculate. It’s a pain-free process, so you don’t need to stress about being poked and prodded. There are also no risks to this procedure — you can return to your day as usual once complete.
All you need to do is produce a sample of your semen by masturbating in a sterile cup. Alternatively, there’s a special condom that can also collect the sample during intercourse. A regular condom won’t work since lubricants and other chemicals are toxic to sperm.
It’s worth noting that you should collect all of the semen produced. If you can’t for some reason, tell your doctor.
Get the sample to the lab within 30 minutes of ejaculation. For best results, your sample should be analyzed within 2 hours of ejaculation.
The cost of your test will also vary based on where you are. You may want to check if it’s covered by your health insurance plan.
|Note: You can also use a “self-test” kit to analyze your sperm. However, these tests only measure sperm count and motility. For analysis of wider metrics, we advise lab analysis.|
When should you consider a semen analysis?
Generally, you want to consider testing after a year of trying to conceive. If you’re over 35 this timeline is reduced to 6 months.
If you really want to be ahead of the curve, you can request a preventative fertility test. This lets you know what to expect when you’re finally ready to conceive. It lets you be on top of your diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes.
How to Increase Male Fertility
Speaking of lifestyle changes, there are many things you can do to optimize your chance of conception.
Your ability to conceive can be a reflection of your overall health. For this reason, it’s important to have a healthy diet and avoid alcohol and medication that can harm sperm.
The life cycle of sperm is about 3 months. This means that you need to eat healthily before you try to conceive. Aim for a balanced diet that includes many greens and antioxidants. If you need, take supplements that support fertility.
Research suggests that a higher BMI (body mass index) is linked to lower sperm count and movement.
Other ways to increase fertility include preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and managing your stress levels.
In the bedroom, avoid lubricants. More research is needed in this area. However, consider using mineral oils or fertility-friendly lubricants.
You’ll also want to keep your scrotal area cool. Increased temperature can be caused by tight underwear, saunas, or exposure to warmth from laptops.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are many questions about male infertility. Below are some common questions and their answers.
Can masturbation eventually lead to infertility?
It’s unlikely that frequent masturbation will eventually lead to infertility. However, this can vary between men. If you already have a low sperm count, masturbation may hinder your chance to conceive temporarily.
Data has shown that men can maintain normal sperm quality and quantity even with daily ejaculation.
Am I allowed to masturbate or have sex before a sperm analysis?
It’s advised to abstain for 2 to 5 days before providing a semen sample. However, you don’t want to abstain for more than 1 week. This will allow your sperm count to be at its highest without affecting test accuracy.
Does female masturbation affect fertility?
Masturbating does not have an impact on female fertility. If your sperm is healthy, and you still can’t conceive — consider having your partner use an ovulation calculator. This will let you know their most fertile days.
The Bottom Line
The top factors influencing fertility are sperm quality and quantity. So we should reframe our question and ask how masturbation affects overall sperm health. More specifically, how it impacts the motility and morphology of sperm.
Aside from a temporary reduction in your sperm count, masturbation doesn’t affect the morphology of your sperm. Of course, this is assuming that you’re not overdoing it.
You should also be wary that infertility could be due to a number of reasons. Habitual drinking, smoking, obesity, and high temperatures may be to blame.
If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year without success, we recommend getting a semen analysis. Additionally, implement healthy dietary habits, and avoid anything that might reduce fertility.