Many men don’t think about the health of their sperm until it is time to start a family. Ideally, you will need large numbers of sperm that are good swimmers and know how to fertilise the egg on arrival. Having regular sex also helps!In about half of the cases where couples have trouble getting pregnant, the problem lies with men. Assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilisation (IVF) are sometimes needed. There are also many things you can do to protect your and your partner’s fertility to lessen the chances of needing IVF treatments in the future. Also bear in mind that it takes two to tango, so take into account your partner’s age when starting a family, as a woman’s fertility levels naturally drop after the age of 35. Your chances of fathering a child may be better if you pay attention to your overall health, which means:
- Exercising regularly
- Watching your weight
- Having a healthy diet
- Not smoking
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) Gonorrhoea, chlamydia, syphilis and warts can not only be painful but some of them can also affect your fertility. STIs, especially untreated gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can cause blockages in the sperm tubes so that sperm can’t move on from the testicles (where they are produced) and into the semen when they are ejaculated. Chlamydia can also cause fertility problems in women so get treatment as soon as possible to stop the spread of the disease to a female partner.
- Prostate infections The prostate sits under the bladder and adds fluid to protect sperm on their journey through the reproductive system. Infections of the prostate, known as prostatitis, can cause pain in the abdomen and fever. As the sperm move through the prostate and into the urethra, swelling of the prostate may stop sperm from passing through the reproductive system.
- Mumps Mumps is a viral infection that can be caught by anyone at any age, but it is much more dangerous for adult men. The mumps virus can totally destroy the tubes that make sperm and permanently stop sperm production.
- Cancer drugs Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can cause long-term problems with sperm production. Ask your doctor about sperm storage before having these treatments, and find out when it is safe to try to become pregnant naturally after treatments have stopped.
- Prescription drugs Fertility or sexual performance problems can also happen with other prescribed drugs such as those used to treat inflammatory conditions, depression, epilepsy, hypertension, diabetes and low testosterone or sperm count (especially Proviron and testosterone injections).
- Illegal drugs Taking anabolic steroids for bodybuilding or competitive sports can damage your body. Besides causing acne, weight gain and changes in mood, testicles can shrink in size and sperm production can stop. In other words, “steroids = sterile”. Once these drugs are stopped, sperm production make take one or two years to return to normal. Fertility can also be affected by other illegal drugs such as marijuana, cocaine and heroin which can lower testosterone levels and sex drive.
- Smoking Sperm DNA (genetic material) is damaged by the chemicals in tobacco smoke – this may lower the chance of a healthy pregnancy and may affect your child’s future health.
- Alcohol While it is common knowledge that women should not drink alcohol while pregnant, it is also advisable for the male partner to refrain while the couple is trying to get pregnant. Binge drinking and regular heavy drinking can harm your health, causing liver problems that can affect the function of the testicles, among other body functions that can also affect sexual and reproductive function.
What else can affect your sperm?
- Work environment Pesticides, heavy metals, toxic chemicals and radiation may affect the quality of sperm you produce. If you must work with such agents, always follow occupational health and safety guidelines.
- Testicles: Undescended, Twists & Sports Injuries Check with your parents to find out if you had a corrective surgery as a child, or look for lower abdominal scars. If you experience extreme pain in the testicles, seek emergency assistance right away. Without a blood supply, the testicle will die, and after 6 to 8 hours there is less and less chance of being able to save it.
- Age As you enter middle age, you become less fertile and it may take longer to get your female partner pregnant. Reasons for this include having sex less often, erectile problems, or other serious health problems that happen more often as you age.