How I learned that sperm analysis isn’t about getting a certificate about my fertility superbness, but showing me there’s room for improvement.
On the next consultation with our doctor, unfortunately it became official, which was only my guess until then: the result of my semen analysis is – let’s say - not ’the best’. The doctor pronounced it clearly: I am involved in our fertility journey as much as my wife is. I am the other 50% in the formula, and the reason why IVF is our only way of having a child together. It didn’t break me, but it was not a comfortable feeling either. I needed some time to digest the situation. I read a few studies about the fact that male fertility has become a bigger problem these days than female fertility. Most of the studies say that minimum 30% (some of them say up to 50%) of infertility problems come from the male side. Studies also show that men’s sperm count dropped, and the capability of fertilization decreased drastically (to its half) over the last few decades in Europe. It surprises me, because if it’s really such a big, common problem, why don't we speak / know more about this?! Knowing that I am definitely not alone with this problem helps me put my mind to ease but it still bugs my ego.
Anyway, let's see what a sperm analysis is about, and my result?
"Most of the studies say that minimum 30% (some of them say up to 50%) of infertility problems come from the male side."
- During the test, they measure the volume of the semen. The normal parameter is 1.5-6 ml (I had 5 ml, so I was OK with this part). This factor is important to show us how big our army will be to start with.
- They also check on its pH. The ideal value is 7.2 (slightly alkaline), but it is considered normal between 7.2-7.8. (Mine was 8.)
- They also check on the motility of the sperms, which is significant because they have to take a long way to reach their goal. If we calculate from the total sperm count, at least half of the little fighters should have good movement. In my case, the progressive motility (when the sperms move in a straight line along a large-arc circle) was 50% (this is ideal). My non-progressive motility value (when sperm moves along a small-arc circle) was 5%. 50% + 5% = 55% in total (which is ok!). I’ve never been a great dancer, but at least my spears are moving well.
- Sperm concentration and sperm count are also determined. Sperm concentration shows how many sperm are present in 1 ml of semen, and sperm count shows the total number in the whole ejaculation. These indicators are changing so mournfully, that an acceptable normal minimum value is no longer even set. The WHO (World Health Organization) has recently given the normal values at 15 million / ml and 39 million / sample. I had 10 million / ml and 50 million / ejaculation, which are not particularly good values.
- They also examine the morphology of the sperms (if the sperm head is in the right shape or size). The sperm head, for example, plays an important role in breaking through the egg wall to be able to fertilize it. According to the WHO numbers, at least 4% of the sperms should be in formal order (unfortunately, this was only 2% for me). Interestingly, I also came across a study that showed that 29% of men with 0% normal-shaped sperm were able to fertilize an egg in the natural way (not with IVF). So, sperms with abnormal head shape doesn’t mean that there’s any genetic problem with them.
The official diagnosis of seeing all my numbers together was: oligo-teratozoospermia. Meaning I have reduced sperm count and low sperm motility.
However, there is a significant advantage for men over women. While the number of eggs is given at birth, and from then this number decreases and then runs out, in men the sperms are renewed cyclically. The process of sperm formation (spermatogenesis) takes 74 days. (Because we cannot know which part of this cycle we are in, it is better to calculate with 3 months). Meaning: in most cases, men have a chance to improve their ‘sperm situation’ in three months.