Male Infertility at a Glance
- Male infertility is the inability to cause a pregnancy.
- Male infertility is often due to low sperm count.
- A semen analysis is often the first step in getting help.
- Treatment is available.
Millions of men face infertility. If your partner is having trouble getting pregnant, you are not alone. The good news is that many men with fertility problems go on to become fathers.
Whether you are dealing with male infertility or are a concerned partner, friend, or family member, you may have many questions. Here are the answers to some questions people commonly ask about male infertility.
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What Is Infertility?
Some couples have a hard time getting pregnant. A couple is considered to have infertility issues when they try for a year without success. More than 1 out of 10 couples experience infertility.
There was a time when people thought infertility was only a woman’s problem. But men can have fertility problems, too. When a couple is having a hard time getting pregnant, it is just as likely to be caused by a problem with male fertility as it is with female fertility.
When a couple has a problem achieving pregnancy, it’s estimated that about
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with the man’s fertility
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with the woman’s fertility
- 1 out of 3 times it’s due to a problem with both the woman’s and the man’s fertility, or a cause cannot be found for the problem
That’s why both the woman and the man usually get tested for fertility problems when a couple is having infertility problems.
When Should I Get Help for Male Infertility?
It can take up to a year for a woman to get pregnant. This is considered normal. Most health care providers suggest waiting a year before seeking infertility testing. If you and your partner have been trying to get pregnant for more than a year, it may be time to see your health care provider.
Some health problems may reduce a man’s ability to get a woman pregnant. You may want to see a health care provider sooner if you have a history of
- cystic fibrosis
- injury or trauma to the scrotum and testes
- problems getting an erection
- problems ejaculating
What Causes Male Infertility?
The most common causes of male infertility are related to sperm — usually problems with sperm count and the quality of that sperm. Sperm-related problems include
- low sperm count
- sperm that don’t move quickly enough — they die before they reach the egg
- sperm that are not formed correctly
- seminal fluid that is too thick — sperm can’t move around in it very easily
- no sperm
Sperm-related problems may result from too much or too little of some of the hormones that guide sperm making.
Another cause of male infertility is a problem with ejaculation. In some cases, tubes inside the male reproductive organs are blocked. If so, you may have a hard time ejaculating, or nothing comes out when you have an orgasm. Sometimes, the ejaculation goes backward from the prostate into the bladder instead of out of the body.
In some cases, there is no known reason for someone’s infertility. This is called unexplained infertility. This can be a very frustrating diagnosis. But even if you are diagnosed with unexplained male infertility, you still have treatment options to consider.
What Could Increase My Risk of Infertility?
Certain things may increase a man’s risk of infertility. They include
- chemotherapy or radiation treatment for cancer
- environmental toxins, like lead and pesticides
- excessive drug or alcohol use
- injury to the scrotum and testes
- smoking cigarettes
- having overheated testicles from wearing clothing that is too tight or swimming or bathing in hot water
- having an undescended testicle
What Kinds of Tests Are Used to Diagnose Male Infertility?
Diagnosing infertility may take several months, so don’t get discouraged if you do not receive an answer quickly. Testing for male infertility usually begins with a health care provider doing a physical exam and asking about your medical history.
You will be asked to give a semen sample so that your sperm and seminal fluid can be examined. This is called a semen analysis. The semen sample will be examined for
- the amount of seminal fluid
- the sperm count — how many sperm there are
- how quickly the sperm move
- the size, shape, and appearance of sperm
Problems with any of these factors can make it more difficult to get a woman pregnant.
You may also have a blood test to find out if there are any hormone problems.
How Is Male Infertility Treated?
Treatment is available for male fertility problems. Male infertility treatment options include
- hormone treatment
If a man’s sperm are not able to fertilize an egg, donor sperm — another man’s sperm — can be used.
Surgery, medication, hormone treatments, and donor sperm may be used alone or along with other treatments that help the egg and sperm unite. Two of the most common treatments include
- intrauterine insemination (IUI) — Semen is collected from a man. A procedure called “sperm washing” is done to separate the healthy sperm from the rest of the semen. A health care provider puts the sperm directly into the uterus. This puts the sperm closer to the egg. It cuts down the time and distance sperm have to travel to reach an egg. IUI is often referred to as donor insemination, alternative insemination, or artificial insemination.
- in vitro fertilization (IVF) — A woman takes medication to make several eggs ripen. A health care provider removes the eggs. Semen that has been collected from a man is put together with the eggs in a lab. After some eggs have been fertilized, one or more of them is put into the uterus. Pregnancy happens if one or more of them implant in the wall of the uterus.
Your health care provider can help you figure out what treatments may work best for you and your partner.
Where Can I Get More Information?
You can find lots of useful information about infertility in men and women at RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association.
If you have more questions or concerns, staff at your local Planned Parenthood health center or your private health care provider can talk with you and help you get the services you need.