Understanding fertility in men
Conceiving a healthy baby depends on a number of factors, including healthy sperm. In fact, this can be the biggest issue after a woman’s age. Male factor infertility affects around half of all infertile couples, so it’s important to understand how the male reproductive system works.
Sperm production starts in the testes, where the hormone testosterone is also produced. An average of 100 million sperm are produced every day in healthy young men. After sperm is produced, it will need to travel along a long channel system starting at the epididymis, where they mature along the way, before exiting via the ductal structures called vas deferens and then out the urethra as part of the ejaculate.
The entire process of sperm production and maturation takes just under 3 months. Any serious illness may affect sperm production for up to three months.
A sperm consists of the head, tail and midpiece sections. To successfully fertilise an egg, the sperm will need to be able to move its tail (motility) to propel itself through cervical mucus to then travel through the uterus and fallopian tube to reach the egg. It will also need to be normally shaped in order to penetrate the outer shell of the egg to deliver its genetic package contained in the head.
What causes infertility?
Infertility is defined as a couple not conceiving after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Causes of infertility are many and varied and involve male, female or a combination of factors. They include problems with:
- the production of sperm or eggs,
- the structure or function of male or female reproductive systems; and/or
- hormonal and immune conditions in both men and women.
After a woman’s age, a little known fact is that male infertility is the single biggest factor influencing a couple’s chance of conception [40% sperm related cause]. The good news is that the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed, and most can also be treated.
In 10-20% of couples no cause will be found, this is called Unexplained Infertility, which can be particularly frustrating for you and your partner.