Know the sperm
One critical piece of the puzzle is understanding the health of the sperm. You may be surprised to know female factors account for approximately 40% of trouble conceiving, so less than half, which means sperm accounts for over 50%!
Historically it’s been a widespread perception that men’s fertility does not worsen or decline with age. It is true that women do have a biological cut-off point for fertility – the menopause – and no such point has been defined for men. But recent research does say that age does have an impact on male fertility. One study found men over 40 years old were half as fertile as men under 25. Another study found it takes five times longer to conceive when the father is over 45. Studies also associate paternal age with increased risk of pregnancy complications and loss.
Here are the most common problems with sperm:
- A lack of sperm – you may have a very low sperm count or no sperm at all (a low sperm count, also called oligozoospermia, is where a man has fewer than 15 million sperm per millilitre of semen)
- Sperm that aren’t moving properly – this will make it harder for sperm to swim to the egg
- Abnormal sperm – sperm can sometimes be an abnormal shape, making it harder for them to move and fertilise an egg
Other male factor problems include:
- Testicle damage – The testicles produce and store sperm. If they’re damaged, it can seriously affect semen quality.
- Ejaculation disorders – Some men experience ejaculation problems that can make it difficult for them to release semen during sex (ejaculate).
- Hypogonadism – This is an abnormally low level of testosterone, the male sex hormone involved in making sperm.
What tests can men take?
Semen analysis – This is to check for sperm problems, such as a low sperm count or sperm that aren’t moving properly. You can access semen tests on the NHS if you’ve been trying for a year, or you can also access the tests privately.
Chlamydia test – Chlamydia can impact fertility. So if in doubt it’s worth taking a test, so it can be treated if needed. You can access chlamydia tests for free at your GP/ sexual health centres. Or you can order them online privately.
What about if I’m using donor sperm?
If you use a donor through a licensed UK fertility clinic there are very few risks. The clinic will test the sperm for safety and quality. Your donor’s family history will be checked to make sure they don’t have any serious genetic diseases that could be passed onto any children you conceive.
They’ll also be checked for infections including HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and gonorrhoea. Semen analysis can help to establish whether sperm is of sufficiently high quality to use in artificial insemination. If you’re using a donation from someone you know, but are still having treatment at a clinic, they’ll go through all the same checks.