Understanding Sperm Motility and Its Effects on Fertility

When defined as being unable to conceive after at least one year of trying, infertility affects an estimated 12% of couples worldwide. Of these cases, 40 to 50 percent fall under the category of male factor infertility, meaning the difficulty achieving pregnancy is due to an issue related to the male partner’s reproductive system. Male factor fertility issues include:

  • Oligospermia (low sperm count)
  • Teratospermia (abnormal sperm shape)
  • Asthenozoospermia (poor sperm motility)

Low sperm count is responsible for most male factor reproductive issues, but sperm motility often also plays a role or is the lone factor in difficulties achieving pregnancy.

What Is Sperm Motility?

Sperm motility is the ability of sperm to move or swim efficiently through the female partner’s reproductive system in order to fertilize an egg. Two general types of sperm motility have been defined:

  1. Progressive Motility – Sperm tend to move in straight lines or large circles.
  2. Non-Progressive Motility – Sperm do not move in straight in lines, or they swim very small circles.

In order to successfully fertilization, sperm must have progression motility which allows them to move at least 25 micrometers per second, through the cervical mucus to reach and fertilize an egg. Poor sperm motility, or asthenozoospermia, is diagnosed when fewer than 32 percent of a sperm sample display progressive motility.

How Is Low Sperm Motility Diagnosed?

Low sperm motility is diagnosed by evaluating a sperm sample to determine how sperm move and interact within the seminal fluid. After abstaining from sexual activity for at least two to seven days, a sample will be collected, typically in the doctor’s office in order to maintain the sample’s quality upon evaluation. Factors other than an inherent problem can affect sperm quality, such as illness or the amount of time which has passed since intercourse. For this reason, a second sample will likely be collected a month or two apart from the first to confirm a diagnosis.

What Causes Low Sperm Motility?

Sometimes, the cause of low sperm motility can be difficult to pinpoint. Other times several factors contribute to low motility. Anything which damages or puts stress on the testicles can have a negative effect on sperm motility. Some common causes include:

  • Injury
  • Infection
  • Testicular Cancer
  • Testicular Surgery
  • Undescended Testicles

In addition, a condition known as varicocele (enlarged veins present in the scrotum) affects sperm quality. Also, smoking, the use of certain herbal medicines, cannabis, cocaine, opiates, and the long-term use of anabolic steroids contribute to lowering both sperm count and sperm motility.

What to Do If Diagnosed with Low Sperm Motility

Although low motility is an issue with which some men are simply born, certain lifestyle adjustments and changes can be made to encourage the production of healthy sperm. These include:

  • Avoiding smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, recreational drug use
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, with a body mass index lower than 25
  • Maintaining an optimal temperature for sperm production (94 degrees) with loose-fitting underwear, breaks from hot environments, and standing up frequently

Additional treatment options for achieving pregnancy which can be discussed with a fertility doctor are also available. These include:

  • Intrauterine Insemination (IUI) or Artificial Insemination – In this procedure, sperm are collected. Then the fastest moving sperm are inserted directly into the female partner’s uterus.
  • In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) – Prior to an IVF procedure, a woman receives medications which encourage the production of eggs. These eggs are then removed from the ovaries and fertilized in the laboratory using the male partner’s sperm. A resulting embryo is then inserted into the uterus for implantation and development.
  • Sperm Donor – If pregnancy cannot be achieved due to male-factor infertility, a sperm donation can be received and used in an IVF procedure.

If you and your partner are having difficulties achieving pregnancy and have been trying for at least one year, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with a doctor at Viera Fertility Center. We can help you better understand, work through, and overcome your difficulties, achieving the pregnancy and quality of life you desire.