If you’re trying to understand male fertility better, one of the most important terms you’ll come across is sperm motility. You might even come across suggestions to improve sperm motility. If you’ve ever wondered what sperm motility is, though, or why you should care about it, you’re in the right place. Read on and we’ll answer these questions and more.
What is sperm motility?
You probably already know that for a successful pregnancy, one healthy sperm has to make it to the egg and fertilize it. While there are many factors that contribute to sperm health, one of the most important is “sperm motility,” or how well sperm can swim. Basically, how well they can swim forward is related to how likely they are to make it to the egg and fertilize it!
Sperm motility is ultimately a count of how many moving sperm are present in a sperm sample. There are two types of motility: progressive (how many sperm are moving forward) and non-progressive (sperm that are moving, but aren’t traveling straight).
Assessing Male Fertility
Because of the large number of sperm that are typically in semen (about 15 million per milliliter of ejaculate!) sperm motility actually doesn’t have to be that high to be considered normal. Having 40% of your total sperm be motile is a typical amount, with 32% progressive motility.
Since sperm motility is a contributing factor to male infertility, if you’re trying to conceive it’s an important metric to be aware of. If your sperm motility is low, taking action to increase it will increase your chances of pregnancy. Sperm count, volume, and sperm morphology are other key factors, and an at-home or in-clinic sperm analysis will help look at all of these.
If you’re considering assisted reproductive technologies like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF), good sperm motility is still important (although fewer motile sperm are required). So if you’re trying to conceive, regardless of how, you might want to know how to improve sperm motility! Many of these tips will also help you with how to increase sperm volume and morphology.
How to Increase Sperm Motility
1. Quit Smoking & Limit Alcohol Use
One of the best things you can do for your fertility is to stop smoking and stop or reduce your alcohol consumption. Both cigarettes and chewing tobacco decrease sperm motility and morphology, so it’s best to cut those out entirely. Marijuana can also reduce sperm quality, and studies show that drinking alcohol once a day or more can impact sperm quality too.
2. Avoid Hot Situations: No Hot Tubs, Hot Showers, Etc.
Did you know that the testicles are a full 4-9 ºF cooler than your core body temperature? That’s for an important reason – normal sperm production happens best at this temperature. That means that high heat can impact sperm quality, including motility.
In particular, you should avoid frequent use of hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms, and choose underwear that don’t compress and heat the scrotum. If your profession requires high heat exposure, you’ll likely want to have motility tested.
3. Limit Stress & Get Enough Sleep
Stress has a negative impact on much of your health, and unfortunately sperm motility is no different. Stress can actually decrease progressive motility specifically, through many different mechanisms. Taking action to reduce stress can have a big impact on your sperm health.
Getting enough sleep is one great way to both reduce stress and improve sperm quality. Aiming for 8-9 hours of sleep a night has been shown to be best for healthy sperm.
4. Avoid Known Toxins
Particular classes of chemicals, known as endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC), can impact sperm quality both by disrupting hormone levels and by creating oxidative stress (basically, chemical stress that damages sperm). While it’s challenging to truly avoid all EDCs, the biggest impact will come from the ones you’re exposed to most frequently.
Some key toxins to try and avoid are phthalates and BPA, both commonly found in plastics and personal care products like deodorant and shampoo and shown to reduce male fertility. Especially for products you use everyday, look for a phthalate free alternative.
Parabens are another type of chemical found in many cosmetics and foods and known to disrupt hormones and sperm quality. Finally, heavy metals like lead, cadmium and arsenic, especially in large quantities, will have a negative effect on fertility. Especially if you have high concentrations in your food or drinking water, these will build up over time and reduce sperm quality.
5. Make Sure You're STD & STI Free
Any infections you have can influence sperm motility and quality. Many sexually transmitted diseases are caused by bacteria or viruses, and having even a small amount of these pathogens present can decrease sperm motility. Both the effects of the diseases on your body and the impact of your immune system trying to fight them off can have a detrimental impact on sperm.
Especially since many males with STIs/STDs actually don’t show symptoms, getting tested if you haven’t recently is a good idea if you’re worried about increasing sperm motility.
6. Stay Healthy: Get Vitamin D, Start Low-Intensity Exercises, Eat Healthy Fats
Since reproductive health is reflective of your overall health, your diet and nutrition impact sperm quality too! Regular exercise increases sperm concentration compared to men who are sedentary (just make sure your exercise isn’t too intense, like high mileage running or cycling).
Getting enough vitamin D and healthy (unsaturated) fats in your diet have also been shown to promote sperm production. Vitamin D specifically is good for testicular health, so make sure you’re getting enough in your diet or consulting your doctor about a supplement (especially if you live in the Northern US).
At-Home Sperm Testing with Proov
At this point you might be wondering how you can test your sperm motility! Fortunately, there’s an easy way to test your sperm at home without the clinic price tag, and that’s the Proov Sperm Test kit.
This kit tests Motile Sperm Concentration, a measure of how many sperm you have that are moving correctly. You’ll also get a score comparing your results to those of other men who have fathered children successfully.
Know When it’s Time to Talk to Your Doctor
If your results are consistently low, if you’ve been trying for over a year, or if you have any signs of infection or pain, it’s time to chat with your doctor! Even if you’ve worked on ways to improve sperm motility, there are also some causes of low sperm count that are structural and may require surgery or other medical intervention.Ready to learn more? Check out the Proov Sperm Test or the Hers & His Fertility Starter Kit!