What is it?
- Male infertility refers to a male’s inability to cause a pregnancy in a fertile female.
What is male infertility?
Male infertility is defined as a male’s inability to cause a pregnancy after having regular intercourse (sex) with a fertile female without birth control for one year.
About 85 percent of male-female couples will be able to get pregnant within 12 months of trying. For those that do not, infertility of either the male or female partner could be the reason. Infertility is common. Out of 100 couples in the United States, 12 to 13 have trouble conceiving.
About one-third of infertility cases are caused by fertility problems in men and another one-third of fertility problems are due to fertility problems in women. The other cases are caused by a mixture of male and female problems or by unknown problems.
What causes infertility in men?
Erectile dysfunction is when a man cannot get or keep an erection (get hard) for sex. Without an erection, it is difficult for a man to release sperm inside the vagina—and, therefore, difficult to get a woman pregnant. There are medications to help increase the chance of getting and keeping an erection. These medications may help to address male infertility caused by erectile dysfunction.
The veins in a man’s scrotum (sac) can become too large. When this happens, it causes something called a varicocele. A varicocele is like a varicose vein that can appear in the leg. These big veins heat and cool the testes. When the big veins heat the testes too much, the heat damages the sperm. Sperm damage can cause male infertility.
Problems with sperm
If a man makes too few sperm or none at all, the woman cannot become pregnant. In addition, if a man’s sperm do not move correctly, they may not be able to meet with and fertilize an egg. These problems with sperm can cause male infertility.
Sperm travel in tubes from the man’s testes to the penis. If the tubes are blocked, the sperm cannot travel into and out of the penis making it impossible for the sperm to ever meet with and fertilize an egg. Blocked tubes can cause male infertility.
What decreases a man’s chance of impregnating a woman?
There are some common risk factors that can increase the likelihood of a man experiencing some form of reversible or permanent infertility. These risks include:
- Age (past age 40, men experience more fertility problems).
- Heavy alcohol use (more than four to five drinks a day).
- Syndromes such as Klinefelter’s syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Kallmann’s syndrome, and Kartagener’s syndrome.
- Environmental toxins, including pesticides and lead.
- Health problems such as mumps or hormone problems.
- Radiation treatment and/or chemotherapy for cancer.
Steroids used to build muscles can shrink the testes and may lead to decreased sperm production.
Are there tests for male infertility?
In many cases, there are tests that can help find the cause(s) of male infertility. Testing may begin with a physical exam and questions about past medical problems. Healthcare providers may also conduct a semen analysis to check the number, shape, and movement of sperm.
How is male infertility treated?
Male infertility is treated in different ways. The treatment approach depends on the cause(s) of the infertility. Many cases are treated with medication or may require surgical procedures. Unfortunately, there are some forms of male infertility that are not treatable.
A couple should see a healthcare provider if they have not been able to become pregnant after 12 months of having sex regularly without birth control. If the woman is age 35 years or older, she should see a healthcare provider after six months of trying to get pregnant. After ruling out female infertility concerns, tests for male infertility may be needed.
Is there a way to increase a couple’s chance of getting pregnant?
Having sex near the time of ovulation is the best way to increase the chance of becoming pregnant. Ovulation occurs about two weeks before a woman’s next period starts. If a woman gets her period every 28 days, ovulation happens about 14 days after she starts her period. Fertility awareness can help women and couples become more familiar with the signs of ovulation and menstrual cycle patterns.
The couple should have sex at least every two days between the 10th and 18th day after the woman starts her period. The couple should make sure to have sex during the three days before ovulation. Ovulation test kits or monitors are available at pharmacies and can help a woman determine her fertile time.
- How common is male infertility, and what are its causes?
- Infertility FAQs
- Male Infertility Best Practice Policy Committee of the American Urological Association & Practice Committee of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. (2006). Report on optimal evaluation of the infertile male. Fertility and Sterility, 86, S202–S209.
- Practice Committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in collaboration with the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. (2008). Optimizing natural fertility. Fertility and Sterility, 90(5, suppl), S1–S6.
Did you know? (Male Infertility)
Content last reviewed on May 30, 2019