Preventing Male Infertility

Often preventing infertility is much easier and better than treating it! What can you do to reduce the risk of being infertile ? The biggest preventable danger to male fertility is due to uncontrolled sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia which can cause irreparable damage to the reproductive tract . Another important preventable cause of testicular damage in men is uncorrected undescended testes. Undescended testes should be surgically treated at an early age to prevent damage - preferably before the age of 2 years. This requires educating mothers of young boys; and doctors as well. It may also be a good idea to immunise boys against mumps in childhood, thus preventing the ravage which mumps can cause to the testes in later life.

Drugs - including alcohol, cocaine and marijuana - are all poisons. They can reduce sex drive; damage sperm production; and interfere with ovulation - and sometimes this damage is irreparable. Smoking tobacco also affects reproductive function - by depleting egg production; increasing the risk of PID; and lowering sperm counts. Often, the adverse effect is temporary, so that when these are stopped, the harmful effects on reproductive function are likely to be reversed. However, since abstinence is easier than moderation, the best option is not to smoke, drink or use drugs

Occupational hazards can also decrease sperm counts. Many toxic drugs - including radiation, radioactive materials, anesthetic gases, and industrial chemicals such as lead, the pesticide DBCP and the pharmaceutical solvent ethylene oxide can reduce fertility by imparing sperm production. Intense exposure to heat in the workplace (for example, long-distance truck drivers exposed to engine heat; and men working in furnaces or in bakeries) can cause long-term and even permanent impairment of sperm production. You should be aware of these hazards and may need to control your exposure if fertility is a concern.

Interestingly, many researchers have observed that sperm counts the world over are declining. Whether this is due to exposure to toxic chemicals such as dioxins ( formed as a result of environmental pollution) , which cause disruption of the endocrine system; or to the stresses of modern day life remains unclear.

What can you do to improve your sperm count ? Stop smoking, drinking or abusing drugs. Most doctors will advise that you take vitamins ( such as Vitamin E, Vitamin C); and others prescribe antioxidants and selenium, though the effect of these on male fertility is still a contentious issue. Traditional advise included taking cold water showers and wearing loose underwear, to help keep the testicular temperature low and “ sperm friendly “, but the results can be unpredictable. Certain drugs ( for example, salazopyrine which is used for treating ulcerative colitis) can suppress sperm counts, so if you are taking prescription medicines, ask your doctor about what their effect on sperm counts it. One simple way of increasing your chances of getting your wife pregnant is to have sex frequently – the more the sperm you deposit, the better your chances of hitting the jackpot!


Does cigarette smoking affect male fertility?

Research on the effect of smoking on semen quality is unclear.  However, it is generally recommended that men quit smoking if they are trying to have children.  A greater number of birth defects have been found in the children of men who smoke heavily.

Does alcohol affect fertility?

What sexually transmitted infections can affect fertility?

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as gonorrhoea, can damage the epididymis, preventing sperm from passing from the testes into the ejaculate.  Genital herpes, while not affecting sperm production or transport, is a problem when spread to a female partner, particularly if a couple is trying to get pregnant.

It is important for men who think they may have a STI to get immediate treatment from a doctor.  This can stop the spread of the disease to a partner and also reduce the chance of blockages developing in the male reproductive tract.  Safe sex practices involving the use of condoms are generally recommended when not attempting to have a family.

Both partners may want to be tested for STIs before trying to have a family.  This may stop any disease being passed on to partners or children.

Do underwear styles really affect fertility?

There is ongoing debate about the effect of underwear styles on sperm production.

Whether looser (cooler) boxer shorts are better than tighter (warmer) briefs is unclear.  Some research has suggested that wearing tight underwear can decrease sperm counts, although other studies have not found this to be the case. 

Doctors usually suggest that patients reduce the chances of heat stress on sperm production by avoiding tight-fitting clothing.

How do spas and saunas affect fertility?

It is generally recommended that men avoid spas, saunas and hot baths if trying to father a child.  Raising the body temperature, and particularly the temperature around the testes, can reduce sperm production.  Sperm need a cooler environment to develop.

What work environments affect fertility?

Although there is no clear evidence that certain work environments affect fertility, it is generally recommended that couples trying to become pregnant avoid exposure to any possible harmful chemicals.  Pesticides, heavy metals, toxic chemicals and radiation may affect the quality and quantity of sperm produced.

Do recreational drugs affect fertility?

Androgens (anabolic steroids) taken for body building or sporting purposes, reduce sperm production by stopping the hormones made by the pituitary gland.  Androgens can also be harmful to general health if men who have normal testosterone levels take them.  These drugs should be stopped immediately, particularly if a couple is trying to have a baby.

Other illegal use of drugs, such as marijuana, may also affect fertility.  There is some proof of a harmful effect on testicular function in some men, therefore it is suggested that men avoid using these drugs.

How do vaginal lubricants affect the chances of becoming pregnant?

Many vaginal lubricants are toxic to (kill) sperm.  If couples are trying to become pregnant, the use of vaginal lubricants should not be used during the fertile time in the female partner’s menstrual cycle.

Is age important when trying to have a family?

It is well known that the chances of becoming pregnant drop as a woman becomes older.  This is particularly true for women using IVF procedures.  After a woman is over 35 years, the chance of assisted reproduction being successful are reduced, even if the infertility problem is mainly due to the man.

New research has shown that men’s fertility slightly drops with age. It can take longer for couples to become pregnant once the man is over 45 years of age4.  The amount of semen ejaculated (semen volume) and the movement of the sperm (sperm motility) also seems to decrease as men get older5.

Why is sperm storage recommended before some treatments?

Sperm storage is the collection (through masturbation) and freezing of semen.  Men about to start treatment that could make them infertile, may want to consider storing sperm before starting treatment.  If and when a couple want to have a family this semen can be thawed and used in fertility treatments such as vaginal insemination at the time of ovulation or, in some cases, through IVF (in vitro fertilisation).

All men and teenage boys, who have started or passed puberty, and who are about to receive chemotherapy or radiotherapy should consider sperm storage before their cancer treatment starts.

Men who need to take medicines for other health reasons when they are also trying to start a family, should check with their doctor to make sure that the medicine does not cause infertility.  If medicines cause infertility, such as Salazopyrin® (used to treat inflammatory bowel disease), men can also store sperm before starting treatment.

Men who have taken hormone treatments in order to improve sperm production, but wish to stop this therapy after their first child has been born, may wish to store some sperm for later possible pregnancies.

Men planning a vasectomy should think about storing sperm before having this procedure.  This may remove the possible need for vasectomy reversals or IVF at a later stage.