The average man makes 1,500 new sperm cells every second.  Every second!  Honestly, we guys don’t get enough credit for this.  That’s incredible manufacturing productivity and we should give ourselves and our species a well-deserved pat on the back.

Unfortunately, though, the quality of sperm coming out of our factory can be pretty lousy.  A lot of them are slow, dead, deformed, genetic mutants that seemingly aren’t really useful for anything. Ok, back pat rescinded.

So how do we separate the blue chip, elite sperm from those not making the cut?  In other words, what make sperm “healthy”?

Unfortunately it’s not as straightforward as we’d like. The World Health Organization (WHO) has provided recommended semen parameter guidelines for several decades based on analysis of semen from fertile and infertile men. The WHO’s Andrology experts confess that there’s still a lot that is unknown about sperm quality and male reproductive health, but for now these guidelines are the best we have and are what we describe here.

Let’s break down sperm health in terms of both Quantity and Quality:

Sperm Quantity

Sperm Count

Your sperm count provides the best indication of how effectively your testicles are producing sperm.  The amount of sperm in your semen has been shown to be directly correlated to time to pregnancy, thus your sperm count is a headline factor in your fertility.

Sperm count numbers can be a little confusing.  Technically, sperm count refers to the total number of sperm cells in your semen, often measured in “millions (M)”.  The way to get to that number is to multiply your sperm concentration (measured in millions of cells per milliliter of semen, M/mL) by the volume (or amount) of semen (measured in milliliters, mL).

Sperm count (M) = sperm concentration (M/mL) x semen volume (mL)

However, the terms sperm count and sperm concentration are often used interchangeably.  So someone may refer to your sperm concentration as your sperm count.  That’s ok (and sometimes we do it too).  Just make sure you know which one you’re talking about.

Sperm count levels

Semen Volume

Yes, the amount of your ejaculate can matter.  Semen volume alone has little impact on fertility outcomes, however it is often used to calculate other sperm parameters (like total sperm count).

Semen volume levels


Sperm Quality
 

Now let’s examine the finer features of your sperm cells… 

Motility

Sperm have to swim a long way to fertilize the egg.  Sperm motility measures the percentage (%) of your sperm cells that can swim (versus non-motile sperm, which could be dead or not moving for other reasons). Typically, about half of sperm are swimmers.

Motility is a little finicky: sperm can switch their swimming on or off due to environmental triggers like temperature, pH, viscosity, etc.  So measuring motility on a microscope slide in a lab (when the sperm are outside of their natural habitat) is a little like evaluating a football player based solely on his gym workout without watching his game film.  It’s a subjective estimate of performance.

Some andrology labs measure sperm that can swim in a straight line (sometimes called progressive, active or grade A). The idea is that these sperm are most the most likely to make it to the egg.

Sperm motility levels


Morphology

Not all sperm are created equal.  Some of them have weird shapes.  In fact, most of them have weird shapes: two heads, no tails, etc.  Morphology measures the percentage of your sperm cells with a normal shape.

Why does morphology matter?  Like motility, morphology is a bit subjective and its clinical importance is often debated.  But generally, abnormally shaped sperm will have more difficulty swimming and fertilizing an egg.

sperm morphology levels


Other Factors

The factors described above are the top indicators of sperm health.  Andrology labs will often look at other semen parameters to round out their analysis, including color, pH, viscosity, liquefaction time, sperm agglutination, and whether any non-sperm cells are visible.  There are also several other advanced lab tests that can measure your sperm’s DNA integrity, oxidative stress, epigenetic signatures, capacitation, etc. that have been shown to correlate with fertility. The science is moving quickly and we learn new things about sperm every day. 

So What?

At the end of the day, if you’re trying to get pregnant the goal is to get one sperm cell to the finish line to successfully fertilize the egg.  It’s all a numbers game: higher numbers in each of these sperm health factors helps improve the odds of that one chosen sperm making it.

Here’s the cool part: most men can improve their sperm production through smart health and lifestyle changes.

We want to help.  Our Trak Male Fertility Testing System was designed to allow you to not only measure your sperm production at home, but more importantly to help you take smart steps in your health and lifestyle to optimize your sperm health and improve your chances of conception.

Let’s Get Started!

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