Top 10 Male Fertility Myths - Demystified

Myth One -- Men Have it Easy

Let's start out with some facts about how much men contribute to the fertility process. About 200 million sperm are mixed with semen to form ejaculate, and in most men, 15 to 45 million of these sperm are healthy enough to fertilize an egg (although about only 400 survive after ejaculation and about 40 of those 400 may reach the vicinity of the egg). The sperm survive the toxic environment of the semen and the "hostile" environment of the vagina and after another process called capacitation (this allows the remaining sperm to penetrate through the tough outer layer of the egg), only one lone sperm reaches the egg for fertilization and conception.

 Myth Two -- The Majority of Fertility Problems Are Related to Women

It's important for partners to work together no matter what the origin of the fertility issues are, and as it is, fertility challenges are distributed pretty equally between men and women. 35-40% of all fertility issues come from the men, and even if the problem does originate with the sperm, the female partner is often undergoing fertility treatments too in order to assist optimizing fertility options such as IUI or IVF.

Myth Three -- A Man's Age Is Irrelevant for Conception

Studies have begun to show that men over 40 have the potential for an increased risk in chromosomal abnormalities that can cause a higher rate of miscarriage for their partner.

Myth Four --  Men Don't Have a Fertile Window

Actually the time of year and even the time of day may affect a man's sperm count. Some studies have shown that sperm counts are higher in the winter and lower in the summer - possibly because sperm production is increased in cooler temperatures. Sperm counts for men are typically also highest in the morning (the time when male hormone levels are also at a daily high). Despite these observations, there isn't a consensus about men's fertility timing, but you may want to experiment with these principles.

Myth Five -- Lubricants Can Help You Get Pregnant

Lubricants don't speed up sperm, but they can decrease friction and potentially help the sperm travel. However, using lubricants can also be counterproductive as they may have ingredients that are toxic to sperm. Saliva and home remedies such as egg whites are not sperm-friendly lubricants. There are some over-the-counter options such as Pre~Seed and Conceive Plus, which are recommended when needed for assisting conception, but consult your doctor first.

Myth Six -- Bicycling and Hot Tubs Affects Fertility

A study of Spanish triathletes showed that they had poorer sperm quality and lower sperm count than athletes training in non-cycling sports, but it's not so much the bike that's at fault as much as the compression and friction which can raise scrotal temperature (which is why hot tubs are implicated as well) and temporarily affect sperm production.  So, keep exercising because that's good for sperm, but choose a seat that's comfortable and try to limit your sustained cycling time or hot tubs to periodic adventures of about 30 minutes of exposure.

Myth Seven -- Smoking Does't Affect Fertility

Smoking has been linked to sperm issues.  Studies continue to find a higher chance of sperm count and sperm quality problems among men who are heavy smokers, and additional research suggests that smoking may negatively affects sperm chromosomes and even the DNA of sperm.

Myth Eight -- Men Shouldn't Wear Tighty Whities

"Tighty whities," or briefs, are often implicated as leading to infertility because the testicles are held more tightly against the body keeping the scrotal temperatures elevated and potentially damaging sperm, but the impact is probably not enough to negatively impact sperm parameters.

Myth Nine -- Daily Sex Increases the Odds for Successful Pregnancy

To take the pressure off a little, conceiving is more about timing than all the time. Generally, the best time to aim for conception is from the 11th to the 17th day of a woman's menstrual cycle. Since a man's sperm can live for 48 to 72 hours in a woman's reproductive tract, you can take some days off knowing the swimmers are still attempting conception while you rest. 

A recent study found no difference in pregnancy rates between couples that had daily intercourse and those who had intercourse every other day. Although regular ejaculation may improve the quality of the available sperm, keeping the quality of some spontaneity alive in the fertility process is important too so that it doesn't become a chore.

Myth Ten -- All Fertility-related Problems Can Be Diagnosed

There are many potential factors for male fertility such as lifestyle, genetics and physiology that may in part explain low sperm count, motility or morphology (shape) and other aspects of male fertility assessment, and while most fertility issues can be diagnosed these days, about 20% of couples will receive the diagnosis of unexplained infertility.  This can be a frustrating diagnosis because if nothing is wrong, then what's wrong? Although it may not feel like it, this can be a good position to be in because you're not correcting a known issue.  Rather you're just optimizing with interventions such as IUI or IVF or the process is taking more time than you had hoped but doesn't mean that you won't be successful. 

Unexplained infertility is a great area for Chinese medicine to work with as well since your acupuncturist looks at the body and reproductive function a little bit differently than just with structural or lab diagnostics and may find an effective avenue to help get you where you want to be.

  

References:

www.cdc.gov/nchs/FASTATS/fertile.htm

http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/deh616v1

www.mayoclinic.com/print/fertility/MC00023/METHOD=print

www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/health/article2665788.ece

www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/321/7271/1259

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8894797

www.fertstert.org/article/S0015-0282(04)02224-1/abstract