Understanding Male Fertility

Possible causes of male infertility

Often overlooked by couples trying to conceive, as many as half of the issues we work with relate to male fertility. It’s important to understand how the male reproductive system works, and the possible causes of infertility.

Sperm production

While a woman’s reproductive system may be more complicated, a man’s healthy sperm is just as vital a part of the equation for a couple trying to start a family. Issues with sperm are common among the couples and individuals we help.

What is a sperm?

A healthy sperm comprises the head, where the genetic material required for fertilisation is stored, the ‘neck’ or mid-piece, and the tail that propels the sperm towards the egg.

For natural conception, semen must contain more than 15 million sperm per millilitre. Of these, over 30 per cent must be able to move forward quickly, and at least four per cent must be a normal shape.

From the testes where they’re created, sperm then pass slowly through a series of long, coiled tubules called the epididymis, where they mature so they can swim to and penetrate an egg cell. They then travel via the vas deferens to the urethra, and out of the penis upon ejaculation.

The entire process of sperm formation takes about 72 days, so serious illness during this time can affect sperm quality and production for up to three months.

Abnormal sperm production

The most common causes of male fertility problems are:

  • Azoospermia – no sperm produced and/or found in the ejaculate.
  • Oligozoospermia – where fewer spermatozoa are produced.
  • Malformed sperm – in rare cases, genetic diseases may be at fault.
  • Immunological infertility – when you develop antibodies against your own sperm.
  • Retrograde ejaculation – where ejaculated sperm goes into the urinary bladder instead of out through the urethra.
  • Blockages in the vas deferens – due to injury or reversed vasectomy
  • Poor-quality sperm – for a wide range of reasons, such as a unhealthy lifestyle

The good news is, TasIVF provides assessment and treatment for all forms of male infertility, as well as helping with female fertility issues. When helping couples trying to start a family, we always assess both partners.

How does age and lifestyle affect men’s fertility?

Men produce sperm their whole lives, so age is less of an issue for men than it is for women, but the chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby are higher when both parents are younger. 

The miscarriage rate, risk of autism and mental health disorders, and time to pregnancy also increases as the male partner ages. 

There are also several important lifestyle factors for a man to consider when his partner is trying to conceive. We know, for example, that smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, prescription medication and recreational drugs, obesity, exposure to radiation, pollutants and pesticides, and acute viral illnesses can seriously affect sperm quality.

Male Fertility Predictor

If you’re experiencing problems trying to start a family with your partner, or simply want further insights into how you can improve your sperm quality, try our Male Fertility Predictor »

Find out more

Most people start to consider seeking professional advice on fertility and conception if they have been trying for 12 months or more without success. It’s recommended to only wait 6 months if the female partner is over 35.

If you have any questions, you can discuss this with your GP, or with a TasIVF fertility specialist.