The man plays a very important role in fertilisation. If you are a man reading this then you may feel that much of the information available is directed towards the woman, but you are as equally important in the process. Male infertility accounts for around 20 to 25% of infertility cases so it is more common than you think. It can happen for a variety of reasons, many of which are related to sperm count, quality and health.
These include your diet, alcohol intake, smoking; tight underwear and certain types of exercise such as cycling! Other inclusions are certain medical conditions and sexually transmitted diseases.
The Male Factor of Infertility
Many physical and emotional factors cause and contribute to infertility. Around 30 to 40% of infertility cases in couples are because of a “male factor.” Examples of such factors are impotence, retrograde ejaculation, decreased sperm count, hormone deficiency, scarring from STDs and environmental pollutants. Sperm count is affected by heavy use of marijuana and prescription drugs like spironolactone, cimetidine and nitrofurantoin.
What are the major factors affecting sperm production
Oligospermia is the term used to describe the condition when the sperm count is low. If there are no sperm at all in the semen sample, the condition is termed azoospermia. In such cases, the clinic will wish to see your husband to take a more detailed history and to examine him. In his history, specific questions will be asked about any past condition that may have affected the testicles. For instance, he will have to answer queries regarding whether he has had any operations in the groin area or for undescended testicles in childhood. The specialist will also ask questions to determine whether there has been any major injury or infection in the genital area.
Infected semen can be a cause of infertility. Earlier, it was believed that mumps could cause sterility in men. However, it is now known that even when the testicles are involved in mumps orchitis (very painful swelling of the testicles), it is extremely rare for this to lead to sterility. In regard to how efficient normal fertility is, you are looking at a 15-20% ‘monthly’ success rate which isn’t very high. So you can see what it takes quite a long time to conceive. Around 70% of healthy couples (with no fertility problems) will have conceived after 6 months. This rises to 85% after a year and as much as 95% after 2 years of trying to conceive.
A successful fertilisation depends on the perfect combination of egg and sperm. But, things can go wrong.
What other factors affect sperm production
1. Heat can have a detrimental effect on normal sperm production. It is for this reason that nature has placed the testicles outside the body in the scrotum rather than in the abdomen like the ovaries. Some infertile men soak themselves in a bathtub full of scalding water and emerge looking like lobsters. This can almost stop sperm production completely. Obese men can also become sterile because the sagging layers of fat can overheat the testicles. Men whose jobs involve long hours of sitting, e.g. long distance lorry-drivers may have infertility due to the increased heat to the genital area.
2. Very frequent intercourse can lead to the demand exceeding the supply. There are quite a number of infertile men whose sex drive is such that they must ejaculate 2-3 times a day. This explodes the myth that links infertility to lack of virility. It can be extremely difficult for these men to reduce their ejaculation rate to every 48 hours.
3. Smoking over 20 cigarettes a day has been shown to reduce both the sperm count and the sperm motility to quite a major degree.
4. Excessive alcohol intake will lead to infertility mainly because a man loses both the inclination and the ability to rise to the occasion! Alcohol can also lower the production of sperm and of the male hormone testosterone.
5. The workaholic husband can find that fatigue can have similar effects on his interest in intercourse as excessive alcohol intake.
Common infertility problems are
• Ovulation (10-15% of cases)
• Tubal blockage (30-40% of cases)
• Endometriosis (30-40% of cases)
• Sperm problems (30-40% of cases)
• Unexplained (15% of cases)