A Semen Analysis is the Cornerstone of Male Fertility Testing
The first step in male fertility testing is a semen analysis. During this analysis, a semen sample — typically produced via masturbation — is examined under a high-powered microscope by a laboratory expert. The sample is evaluated for the following “semen parameters”, or metrics of fertility:
- Sperm Count/Concentration – Sperm count is the total number of sperm in a particular quantity of semen, the fluid that carries sperm out of the penis. Sperm concentration refers to how densely packed those sperm are within the semen. For example, a sample may include 3 millilitres of semen (volume) and a total sperm count of 45 million; that would be a concentration of 15 million sperm per mL.
- Sperm Motility – Motility refers to the ability of the sperm to move or “swim,” which is essential for them to move through the female reproductive system and fertilize the egg. Progressive motility is the best type of movement that can be seen in sperm testing—that means the sperm move forward in straight lines or in large circles, as opposed to in small tight circles or along erratic paths.
- Sperm Morphology – Morphology means the sperm’s structure or shape, which is ideally a smooth oval head, a well-defined acrosome (cap) that covers 40–70% of the head, and a long tail with no visible abnormalities. This shape is important because it impacts a sperm’s ability to travel to and penetrate an egg.
- Semen Volume – While low semen volume may not be a cause of infertility on its own, it can point to specific issues in the reproductive system, such as a blockage.
A semen analysis will not come back stamped “fertile” or “infertile.” Infertility is a functional diagnosis; that means it’s diagnosed when a couple cannot conceive after 6–12 months, not simply based on test results. Additionally, fertility is complex and evolving — it involves two partners and multiple factors, and can be impacted by lifestyle, medical history, and more. However, low sperm count and poor motility and morphology are associated with a lower chance of pregnancy. A semen analysis is an extremely valuable first look into your sperm health and how likely it is that you’ll be able to conceive naturally.
Advanced male fertility testing may include hormone testing, sperm DNA fragmentation analysis, and genetic testing, among other assessments. Today, many of these sperm tests can be done at home, as well.