For men, sperm count is a very important part of fertility. If a couple experiences several cycles without conceiving, the man’s sperm count could be the issue. He can have his sperm count and quality assessed at a fertility clinic.
There is no way to know a sperm count by simply looking at semen; it must be seen under a microscope. Although sperm count is important, a man can conceive a child even if he has a low sperm count. The inverse is also true; a man with a higher-than-average sperm count may not be able to father a child immediately. Reproduction is a complicated process with many varied elements, so sperm count is only one piece of the puzzle.
The World Health Organization defines a “normal” sperm count as 20 million sperm per millilitre of semen, with at least 2 millilitres of semen ejaculated, resulting in an approximate sperm count of 40 million. Of the 40 million, it is considered acceptable for up to 25% of the sperm to be dead, and up to 70% to have deformities of some sort. 50% of all the sperm should be travelling forward, and at least 25% should be travelling forward quickly. Again, these numbers are considered guidelines of a normal sperm count. If a man is concerned that his sperm count is low, his doctor can help explain his specific numbers of sperm, and what it will likely mean to his fertility.
Sperm count can be affected by many things, including some that can be changed relatively easily. Tight underwear or pants that don’t allow the testicles to “breathe” can contribute to low sperm count, quality and motility, as can spending excessive amounts of time in a hot tub or a hot bath. A man’s diet can affect his semen and sperm count. Mild to moderate exercise can help improve sperm count, although excessive exercise, especially in tight or constrictive clothing, can decrease sperm count. Stress and poor sleeping and health habits can negatively affect sperm count and quality, so men who are trying to conceive should try to maintain low stress levels and to attempt positive overall health.
Some factors over which a man may not have as much control have to do with genetics and illness—there is an element of a man’s hormonal cues that are out of his control, so it is doubly important for a man to maintain good health in the factors he has control over.
Lastly, sperm count can be influenced by sexual activity. A man needs to ejaculate often enough to continue to produce fresh, high-quality sperm. That said, if he ejaculates too often, his body cannot make a full complement of sperm and his sperm count suffers. There is no definite “best amount of time” for a man to wait between ejaculations, but most fertility experts guess it to be between 36 and 48 hours. If a man does not ejaculate at least once every five to seven days, he risks having his sperm age in his testes. So the best way to maximize sexual activity for sperm count is to have sexual intercourse every day or every two days, and at least every three or four days. That way, a couple can benefit from the maximum number and quality of sperm.