What can impact male fertility?
Reviewed by our clinical team
Are you a cis-gender man currently trying for a baby with your partner, or thinking about starting the process at some point in the future? With regular, unprotected sex there’s a good chance you’ll conceive naturally within one year.
However, for some couples it can take longer because of an issue with fertility in one or both people. As a man, your fertility can be impacted by lots of things, including short-term issues like stress and drinking alcohol and long-term conditions like a problem with the hormones.
The good news is that there are some simple things you can do to improve your fertility when you’re trying to become a dad – read on to find out more.
How to increase male fertility
If you’re trying to conceive, the first thing to know is that you should be having unprotected sex two to three times a week. It should go without saying, but this is the most important step!
Beyond that, there are a few simple lifestyle changes you can make to increase your chance of conceiving quickly.
Keep your testicles cool
Ever wondered why your balls hang outside of your body? It’s to keep them cool, which allows them to produce a higher quality of sperm.
With that in mind, take care not to “overheat” your testicles when you’re trying to conceive:
- Don't put your laptop directly on your lap
- If you work in a hot environment, try to take regular breaks outside
- If you sit for long periods, make sure you take breaks to get up and move around
- Avoid taking very hot baths or showers, or sitting in hot tubs
- Avoid wearing very tight underwear
- Avoid cycling for long periods
There are lots of reasons to quit smoking, and boosting your fertility is just one of them. Not only is smoking known to reduce fertility in both men and women, it’s also a big risk factor for respiratory disease and cot death in newborn babies.
Cut back on alcohol
Enjoying the odd pint or glass of wine isn’t a problem, but if you’re drinking excessively this could have an impact on the quality of your sperm.
The current guidance is that men and women should have no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, spread over at least three days. That equates to about six pints of average strength beer.
It’s a good idea to have alcohol-free days during the week, and to opt for lower-strength drinks when available.
Being very overweight can affect the quality and quantity of your sperm, so consider losing weight if you have a BMI over 25.
Weight loss is all about burning more calories than you consume, which means you’ll probably need to make changes to your diet. Remember, healthy eating isn’t just about eating less – it’s also about eating the right kinds of foods i.e. less salt, sugar and saturated fat and more veggies, pulses and wholegrain carbs. For guidance, check out the NHS Eatwell Guide.
In addition to eating a healthier diet, you’ll want to start exercising regularly.
Not only does this help you burn more calories, it’s a great way to improve your sleep, reduce stress and boost your mood.
We all experience stress from time to time, but if it’s becoming a daily problem for you, there’s a good chance it will affect your ability to conceive.
It’s thought that severe stress limits sperm production, as well as having an impact on your sex drive. Being stressed can also put strain on a relationship, meaning that you and your partner are less likely to be “in the mood”!
Of course, stress isn’t always easy to combat but a good place to start is pinpointing your triggers. If you’re having issues at work, it’s worth speaking to your line manager about your concerns – you might even consider getting signed off for stress by your GP.
If the cause is something at home, like money worries, open communication with your partner is vital.
In the short-term, relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation can help you to manage stress, as can regular exercise.
For more guidance on coping with stress, check out this guide on the Mind website.
Male infertility causes
So called "male factor infertility" might be the issue if you've had regular unprotected sex with your partner for one year and this hasn't resulted in a pregnancy. Both of you should visit your GP to find out if there’s an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.
Male infertility can be broadly divided into problems with sperm production and "transport " issues. Sperm production issues can result in poor quality sperm or low numbers. "Transport" issues might be due to damaged testicles or the tubes that carry sperm out of the body. These issues can be caused by:
- Hormone problems
- Testicular cancer
- Chemotherapy and some other medicines
- Exposure to radiation, pesticides, or certain chemicals
- Some recreational drugs including anabolic steroids
- Some STIs, such as chlamydia, gonorrhoea or HIV
As mentioned above, alcohol, some recreational drugs, anabolic steroids, smoking, being overweight and excessive stress can also affect sperm quality. The good news is though, that once you stop or reduce this, your fertility is likely to improve.
Treatment options for male infertility
Learning that you’re infertile can be really upsetting, but it’s important not to lose hope. It may be that your infertility is temporary, caused by medication, stress or an injury that just needs time to heal.
If the cause is something more permanent, you may be able to receive treatment to address the problem. Men might be offered hormone therapy or surgery to correct a blockage in the tubes that transport sperm out of the testicles.
There’s also the option of assisted conception. One option is to have your sperm collected and inserted directly into your partner’s uterus. Another is to have one of your partner’s eggs fertilised with your sperm outside the body, then inserted into the uterus. Lastly, you might consider sperm donation.
If you're currently struggling with your fertility, know that you’re not alone – around one in seven couples are thought to have trouble getting pregnant, which means there are plenty of resources available. Visit the Fertility Network UK website to learn more and to get support.