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Finding out what the underlying cause of a couple's infertility is can sometimes be tricky, and infertility testing can be a lengthy process.

Sperm analysis, the single most informative male fertility test, is perhaps also the most straightforward fertility testing procedure. Who needs a sperm analysis, and what does this test find out? 

What is analysed?

A semen analysis looks at many different things a man's sperm count, the size and shape of his sperm, and their speed. The volume of semen is measured as well, and sperm analysis also checks for white blood cells and anti-sperm antibodies. Each of these factors influences a man's ability to get his partner pregnant. Sperm count is probably the most well-known factor a sperm analysis looks into.

A sperm count of 20 million sperm or more per milliliter of semen is considered normal. Because every man's sperm count varies a bit (depending on illness, wearing underwear that is too tight, or even stress), sperm analysis should be carried out twice, a few weeks apart. This gives the most accurate picture of the man's true sperm count range.

Motility and morphology, or speed and shape, are also examined during a sperm analysis. Sperm that is too slow or is malformed hinder a man's fertility in obvious ways. Those men who are found to have problems in these two areas may find out why their sperm has poor motility or morphology (illness, or even sperm antibodies can be responsible for example), or the cause of their sperm's speed and shape problems may remain unknown.

One word about "weirdly shaped sperm"; every man has a certain percentage of sperm that are shaped abnormally, and this does not have to impact his fertility negatively. It is a higher than normal percentage of poorly shaped sperm that harms fertility, and the higher that percentage, the bigger the problem. A high number of white blood cells in a man's semen sample may indicate an infection of some kind, and will give the man the opportunity to receive medical treatment. The presence of anti-sperm antibodies shows that a the man's bodily defense systems attack his own sperm not very helpful if he is hoping to conceive. This is a fairly rare occurrence, fortunately.

Sperm analysis what are the normal values?

Now that you know what sperm analysis looks out for, you probably want to find out what the normal values are as well. Here you go:

  • Sperm count/sperm concentration: more than 20 million sperm per ml.
  • Standard tests volume: more than 2.0 ml.
  • Sperm motility: more than 50 percent of total sample have forward movement.
  • Sperm morphology: a minimum of 15 percent should be normally shaped.
  • White blood cells: less than one million white blood cells per ml.

Preparing for a sperm analysis

Are you going for sperm analysis? Of course, you are fairly nervous about the whole procedure. Masturbating into a cup is only the start of that the results, which you will have access to quickly after the test, will tell you a lot about your reproductive future. You should discuss the preparations with your doctor in advance. Generally, though, you will be asked to abstain from intercourse and ejaculation for two to five days, so that your clinic can obtain the best results. Men who have religious objections to ejaculating into the sterile cup normally provided can discuss other options with their healthcare team.

However, it is important to note that the first part of the ejaculate contains most sperm and that collecting a sperm, sample after intercourse is not a good method. Collecting into a condom is not an option either, since these contain substances that harm sperm and bias the sample. After your doctor has obtained your semen sample, the rest of the job is up to the lab. You will usually get the results as quickly as the next day, and will then meet with your doctor to discuss the results and any further steps that may be recommended in your fertility testing process. Are you a man who has undergone sperm analysis? Please leave a comment and share your experience with other guys who are about to go through it!