9 things that might surprise you about male fertility

Are your misconceptions getting in the way of you conceiving successfully? Get to the bottom of these beliefs, stat!

Been trying to conceive a baby for a while, but no luck so far? Baby making can be fun, but also stressful, especially if you’ve been “going at it” for quite some time and aren’t seeing any results.

Telling friends and family about your efforts to start or grow your family may also subject you to unwarranted advice on how to maximise your chances of success. They mean well, but they may not have all the facts either.

Infertility is not only a female problem – one-third of the time it’s due to male health issues as well. However, there’s a lot of myth surrounding it, which can stand in the way of your baby-making efforts.

SmartParents speaks to Gleneagles Hospital’s urologist, Dr Ho Siew Hong and National University Hospital’s consultant and director in Andrology & Male Reproductive Medicine, Dr Joe Lee to help you separate fact from fiction…

MYTH #1: Boxers are better than briefs

FACT Switching from briefs to boxers is supposed to benefit sperm count since the latter doesn’t “squeeze” your testis to your body, causing it to heat up. However, according to Dr Ho, this could also happen if your boxers are too tight. In fact, it’s the size of your undergarments that matter more than the type.

An average male produces about 20 million sperm per ejaculation, only a small portion of these sperms are healthy enough to fertilise an egg.

Scrotal temperature may not make a difference to sperm health in a healthy male person, as blood flow in the testicle remains normal, regardless of boxers or briefs. It has got to do more with certain health conditions such as varicocele veins in the scrotum (artificially large veins). This condition increases scrotal temperature as a result of excess blood flow, which will be further exacerbated if you use tight underwear explains Dr Ho.

MYTH #2: Being too muscular and lean can harm your sperm health

FACT There’s no scientific link to suggest that your lean body will have a negative impact on your sperm health, unless you gained muscle mass through testosterone supplements, which can contribute to low sperm count. The only way your body weight can affect your fertility is if it’s linked to malnourishment, adds Dr Lee.

MYTH #3: A smaller waistline is a sign of increased female hormones

FACT A man’s waistline has nothing to do with the presence of female hormones in their bodies. Similarly, a man with a large waistline may not necessarily have poor sperm health, either. Dr Ho points out that it really depends on a patient’s Body Mass Index. “A man with a larger waistline may be obese and obesity is associated with lower sperm count as it leads to lower levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone. Obese patients are also generally less healthy,” adds Dr Ho.

 

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MYTH #4: I’m healthy so my sperm must be healthy, too

FACT Dr Lee notes that most fertile men will have their fair share of odd-shaped and “slow swimmers”. An average male produces about 20 million sperm per ejaculation, only a small portion of these sperm are healthy enough to fertilise an egg, adds Dr Ho. Sperm that aren’t healthy or perfect will die along the way.

MYTH #5: Frequent masturbation is bad for sperm health

FACT Sperm is constantly generated and replenished in your body. Any sperm that isn’t ejaculated will be broken down and absorbed by the body, says Dr Ho. “The release of sperm every three days would not compromise the quantity of sperm as the body will be able to replenish the ejaculated sperm”.

If you’ve been abstaining from masturbation or any sexual activity for an extended period of time, Dr Ho says your next ejaculation will actually contain a large amount of inactive and dead sperm that were not released. And only when these inactive sperm have been flushed out will the quality of sperm return to normal.

MYTH #6: Age has no effect on a man’s fertility

FACT Studies have shown that male fertility remains fairly stable until the age of 35, notes Dr Lee. “From age 40 onwards, a decline in sperm count and motility is observed,” he adds. Men who are 50 and older are also at higher risk of andropause, which causes a decrease in testosterone levels. However, Dr Lee points out that the condition does not affect all men and sometimes may even affect younger men.

MYTH #7: Smartphones and cycling can affect sperm health negatively

FACT As of now there aren’t any scientific studies that link your smartphones’ proximity to your penis to poor sperm health. Dr Ho notes that cycling for prolonged periods of time only causes short-term presence of blood in the urine, and you will usually recover from it within 24 hours with no impact on your sperm count.

“Release of sperm every three days would not compromise the quantity of sperm as the body will be able to replenish the ejaculated sperm”

However, Dr Lee says the extended use of laptops on your lap can increase scrotal temperature and affect sperm production. “Staying in saunas and hot springs for a long time can also damage sperm and reduce its count until new ones are formed,” he adds.

MYTH #8: High sperm count = good sperm health

FACT While high sperm is a good sign of fertility, Dr Lee adds that good sperm health also lies with motility (how well they move) and morphology (shape).

MYTH #9: Lubricants are good for sperm health

FACT Not all lubricants are good for sperm health. Some of them contain spermicides that can kill your healthy little swimmers. Other lubricants have pH levels that can also negatively impact your sperm. If you and your spouse are still keen on using lubricants, Dr Lee’s advice is to use ones that are water-based and free from glycerine.

Photos: iStock

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