Understanding fertility in men
Conceiving a healthy baby depends on a number of factors, including healthy sperm. In fact, male infertility is the second biggest issue after a woman’s age so it’s important to understand how the male reproductive system works.
Male factor infertility affects around half of all infertile couples, the good news is that the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed, and most can also be treated.
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 mid-piece 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.
There are four key components necessary to achieve satisfactory sperm production and a pregnancy:
- Normal hormonal stimulation from the pituitary gland
- Normal sperm production in the tubules of the testes
- An unobstructed sperm pathway
- Effective natural sperm delivery
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Is there a biological clock ticking for men, too? Dr Frank Quinn, fertility specialist with IVFAustralia, discusses male fertility and whether getting older can impact sperm quality. Watch via our Fertile Minds YouTube Channel.