Male Fertility: What He Needs To Know

father holding sleeping baby

Historically the shame of being unable to have children was solely placed on the woman's shoulders. People, doctors included, couldn't possibly fathom that the fault for not being able to procreate could belong to the male. Men were, by their very conquering nature, supposedly fertile creatures. To suggest otherwise was to poke serious holes in the male ego and, considering the largely patriarchal society that we have lived in since the beginning of time, it didn't really go over all that well.

A Change in Fertility Diagnosis

It's only in the last fifty years, with the developments in reproductive biology, ironically pushed forward by the women's liberation movement and their fight for the right to control their own bodies, that the investigation into male reproductive biology seemed to progress as well. Inevitably, the admission came that in as much as fifty percent of infertility cases, the issues lay with the male.

Low sperm counts, erectile dysfunctions, blockages: none of these terms would have even been considered a hundred years ago. It's only recently, with the rising rates of infertility along with the generally more balanced worldview between men and women that the microscope has been turned on men as much as women in the battle to conceive.

So what do men need to know to protect themselves as well as prepare themselves for when they finally do want to father children? Is there any truth to rumors or supposed myths about bicycle seats, tighty whities and hot tubs? Are there specific foods that cater to male fertility more than others?

father holding newborn's hand

Truth and Myths of Male Fertility

There is an old joke that if you want to get a woman pregnant, get her drunk, but research has proven that if the male is drunk too, the chances of anyone getting pregnant are slim to none. Not only does too much alcohol impair a man's ability to achieve an erection, but if he does manage to achieve one, his ability to ejaculate becomes impaired. Add to that the fact that alcohol actually damages the sperm-creating cells and raises estrogen levels in men. Long term alcoholism can cause extensive internal damage to the testicles themselves.

In the matter of the infamous "tighty whitey" debate the answer, according to Dr. Sheldon Marks, a specialist in male fertility, is a definitive no. Despite the firm belief that tight underwear blunts sperm production as opposed to loose-fitting underwear, there is no scientific research to support the idea that any kind of underwear affects sperm production one way or the other. So where does this belief stem from? Perhaps it is the advice that keeping the male genitals too warm does indeed damage sperm. After all, isn't that why male reproductive organs are on the outside, to keep sperm cool while a woman's reproductive system is fully contained inside her body?

In the same vein, hot tubs, saunas, and hot showers have indeed been proven to lower sperm counts. Once these factors are removed, studies have shown that sperm motility returns to normal levels in as little as a month or two.

Smoking in all its forms, including cigarettes and marijuana, damages sperm. So now there is yet another reason to butt out. A study by cigarette company Phillip Morris where the sperm of smokers was analyzed, discovered that their sperm did not have the ability to bind strongly enough to a female's egg, severely hampering conception.

While the usual sage advice of healthy diet and exercise is certainly based in truth, too much exercise can have an adverse effect on sperm counts. Heat damages sperm so if the body overheats during excessive exercise then this can have the same effect as a being in a hot tub or sauna. It's very important for men to stay hydrated during exercise and be careful not to overexert themselves.

One of the most shocking impediments to male fertility could indeed be his female partner. The vagina, by its very nature, is designed with a PH that is supposed to kill sperm and prevent conception. This is why semen tends to clump up after ejaculation into the vagina. The clumping is to protect the sperm as it travels through the vagina in its journey to the woman's egg. If the woman's PH is severely off balance or too high (douching has been proven to throw off this balance) then the secretions in the vagina kill the sperm more often than not.

So what can a man do to increase his chances of fathering a child? Normally, couples are given at least six months to attempt to conceive naturally before tests are done on both the woman and the man to determine what could be impeding conception.
dad kissing baby's forehead

A regular semen analysis every few months (after 3 days of abstinence) can help the doctor see if there is a significant drop in sperm motility.

While acupuncture is believed to help women conceive by relaxing the uterine walls, making it easy for conception to take place, recent studies have proven that it may also help men achieve higher sperm counts as well.

An increase in protein in the diet has been shown to increase fertility for men. Vegetarians can take protein supplements. Other helpful supplements include Vitamin C, Selenium, Vitamin E and even Folic Acid, previously thought to be just for mothers-to-be.

Certainly one of the most popular ways to increase sperm count is sex every 24 or at least 48 hours. Ejaculating at least once a day keeps the man's reproductive system working efficiently and helps prevent sperm from dying.

The key to detecting and correcting any impediments to conception is early testing. Visit your urologist once you have been trying to conceive for at least six months, and he will do both a semen analysis and a brief physical exam. From there he can help figure out what could be keeping you from fathering a child and what you can do to help achieve your goal of becoming a father.