What Is Semen Analysis?

If you and your partner are having trouble getting pregnant, it can be frustrating and even heartbreaking. No doubt you want to find the cause behind what’s preventing you from conceiving.

While both men and women can have problems, issues with male fertility can play a part in as many as half of all infertility cases. And since male infertility is often caused by low sperm production, one of the first tests your doctor will likely ask for is a semen analysis.

Providing a Semen Sample

In order to test your semen, your doctor will ask you to provide a semen sample. Normally, you ejaculate into a collection cup in a private room at your doctor’s office.

Sometimes you can collect your sample at home, though you have to keep it at room temperature and get it to your doctor or lab within 1 hour. Some doctors can provide you with a special condom that collects your semen during sex.

Your doctor may ask you not to have sex or masturbate for 2 to 5 days before your test to make sure your sperm count will be as high as possible. However, don’t avoid ejaculation for more than 2 weeks before your test. That can result in a sample with sperm that are less active.

It’s best not to drink alcohol before your semen analysis. You should also tell your doctor about any medications or herbal supplements you’re taking. And don’t use lubricants when you collect your sample because they can affect how easily your sperm can move around.

To get the most accurate results, your doctor will want to test more than one sample. You will need to provide another sample within 2 to 3 weeks. This is because semen samples from the same man can vary.You may even need to provide 2 to 3 samples over a three-month period.

What the Test Tells You

Once a lab gets your semen sample, they’ll look at it under a microscope. This will give them a wealth of information, including:

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How many sperm there are (concentration). A normal sperm count is at least 15 million sperm per milliliter of semen. Your sperm count is considered low if you have less than that.

How your sperm are moving (motility). Your doctor will look at how many sperm are moving and how well they move. Ideally, 50% or more of your sperm sample should be active.

What your sperm look like (morphology). The size and shape of your sperm affect their ability to fertilize an egg. Normal semen will have at least 4% normally shaped sperm.

In addition to analyzing your sperm, your doctor will also find out other details from your sample, including the following:

Volume. He’ll note how much semen you were able to provide for your sample. A normal amount is at least 1.5 milliliters, or about half a teaspoon. If your sample is less than that, it could mean that your seminal vesicles aren’t making enough fluid or are blocked. You could also have a problem with your prostate.

Chemical makeup. Your pH level measures the acidity in your semen. Normal pH is between 7.1 and 8.0. A low pH level means you have acidic semen. A high pH level means it’s alkaline. An abnormal pH can affect the health of your sperm and how well it moves.

Liquefaction time. Normal semen comes out thick during ejaculation. Liquefaction time measures how long it takes before it becomes liquid. It should take about 20 minutes. If yours takes longer, or doesn’t become liquid at all, it could mean there’s a problem.

Fructose level. If your doctor doesn’t find any sperm in your semen analysis, he will probably check it for seminal fructose, which is produced by your seminal vesicles. Low levels, or no fructose, could mean you have an obstruction.

If your semen analysis results are abnormal, your doctor will likely want you to have other tests to figure out your specific fertility problem.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 09, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: “Low Sperm Count,” “Male Infertility.”

University of Michigan: “Semen Analysis.”

RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association: “The Semen Analysis.”

CDC: “Infertility.”

Zhou, J. PLOS, 2015.

World Health Organization: WHO laboratory manual for the examination and processing of human semen, 2010.

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