Fertility in males

Learn about fertility and infertility in males.

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Male fertility

Male fertility depends on the testicles (or ‘testes’) making normal sperm and then delivering them through the male reproductive tract. Around 20 million sperm per millilitre need to be present in the ejaculate, or semen, with enough mobility and strength to swim the journey to the fallopian tube where conception takes place.

What is infertility?

Infertility is defined as the failure to establish a clinical pregnancy after 12 months of regular, unprotected sexual intercourse or due to an impairment of a person’s capacity to reproduce, either as an individual or with his/her partner. Approximately 15% of couples experience fertility difficulties and these can be due to:

  • female fertility problems (about 40%)
  • male fertility problems (about 40%)
  • both male and female fertility problems (about 10%)
  • unknown cause (about 10%)

Causes of infertility in males

Infertility in males results from the abnormal development of sperm (eg. sperm not growing fully or being odd shaped, or, not moving in the right way) and/or an abnormal sperm count. A sperm count refers to the number of sperm present in a semen sample. These problems can result from:

  • Lifestyle factors including:
    • Smoking
    • Drinking alcohol
  • Certain medication (eg. for conditions such as arthritis, depression, or cancer)
  • A low level of the male hormone, testosterone
  • Childhood infections such as mumps
  • Blockage to tubes of the male reproductive system due to:
    • Previous surgery (eg. a vasectomy)
    • Repeated infections
    • Abnormal development of the tubes
  • Varicoceles. About 40% of infertile men have a varicocele – a distended (swollen) vein in the scrotum. The varicocele results in slow blood flow and the testes warm up to a point where sperm production is affected.
  • Ejaculation disorders such as retrograde ejaculation, where semen goes back into the bladder instead of out of the penis. This occurs due to incorrect function of nerves and muscles.

For more information on male infertility, visit the Healthy Male website.

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