A semen analysis (sperm test) is usually advised if a couple is having difficulty in conceiving (becoming pregnant). The aim is to see if the semen and sperm made by the male partner is normal or not.
How do I produce a specimen?
You will be given a specimen pot. Produce semen by masturbation into the pot. Do not use semen from a condom. Your doctor may ask you not to have sex 3-5 days before you produce the sample. You should deliver the sample to the laboratory within one hour of production. The pot, which contains the sample, should not be left out in the cold but should be kept warm – for example, in a pocket.
What is a normal result?
The semen sample is looked at with a microscope to count the number of sperm, look at their shape, and to determine the percentage that are active (motile). The results of the test generally fall into one of three categories:
- Definitely abnormal. This may mean there are very few or no sperms, or that the shape and size of sperm is not normal (this is referred to as sperm ‘morphology’).
- Somewhere ‘in between’. In these men, fertility is still possible.
If the test results show that the specimen was not normal, you may be asked to repeat the process. This is because sperm production can vary due to a number of different factors. Sometimes, if the sperm count is borderline or slightly low, some of the following factors may be worth considering:
Was the sample ideal? See above on how to produce an ideal sample. It may be worth repeating to check this. Was it taken to the laboratory in time? Was it kept warm? Cooling the sample or a delay in getting it to the laboratory can alter the number of active sperm, and give a false result.
High testes temperature. Sperm are made in the testes, which are in the scrotum. This is the body’s way of keeping the testes slightly cooler than the rest of the body, which is best for making sperm. It is often advised for men who have a low sperm count to wear loose-fitting underpants and trousers and to avoid very hot baths, saunas, etc. This aims to keep your testes slightly cooler than the rest of your body, which is thought to be good for sperm production.
Smoking can affect the sperm count. If you smoke, you should stop completely for optimum sperm reduction.
Alcohol. More than 16 units per week (equivalent to about 8 pints of normal strength beer or 16 small glasses of wine) may interfere with optimum fertility.
Drugs and medicines. Most do not interfere with sperm production, but some may do. These include sulfasalazine, nitrofurantoin, tetracycline, cimetidine, colchicine, allopurinol, some chemotherapy drugs, cannabis, cocaine, and anabolic steroids.