Semen Analysis – What To Think About
A semen sample collected at home must be received at the laboratory or clinic within 1 hour. Keep the sample out of direct sunlight and do not allow it to get cold or hot. If it is a cold day, carry the semen sample container against your body to keep it as close to body temperature as possible. Do not refrigerate the semen sample. Consistently detecting sperm in the semen of a man who has had a vasectomy indicates that his surgery was not successful, and another form of birth control should be used to prevent pregnancy. A low number of sperm may be present in a semen sample taken initially after a vasectomy. However, sperm should not be present in subsequent samples. A man whose mother took the medicine diethylstilbestrol (DES) during her pregnancy with him has a greater-than-normal risk of being unable to father a child (infertile). Additional tests may include measuring hormone levels, such as testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), or prolactin. For more information, see the medical tests Testosterone, Luteinizing Hormone, Follicle-Stimulating Hormone, and Prolactin. Other fertility testing, including sperm penetration, the presence of antisperm antibodies, or analysis after sexual intercourse (postcoital), may be recommended for infertility problems. For more information, see the medical test Infertility Testing.
Why It Is Done
- To determine if a man has a reproductive problem that is causing infertility.
- To determine if a vasectomy has been successful.
- To determine if a vasectomy reversal has been successful.
How To Prepare
You may be asked to avoid any sexual activity that results in ejaculation for 2 to 5 days before a semen analysis. This helps ensure that your sperm count will be at its highest, and it improves the reliability of the test. If possible, do not avoid sexual activity for more than 1 to 2 weeks before this test, because a long period of sexual inactivity can result in less active sperm. You may be asked to avoid drinking alcohol for a few days before the test. Be sure to tell your health professional about any medications or herbal supplements you are taking.
How It Is Done
You will need to produce a semen sample, usually by ejaculating into a clean sample cup. You can do this in a private room or in a bathroom at your health professional’s office or clinic. If you live close to your health professional’s office or clinic, you may be able to collect the semen sample at home and then transport it to the office or clinic for testing. The most common way to collect semen is by masturbation, directing the semen into a clean sample cup. You can collect a semen sample during sex by withdrawing your penis from your partner just before ejaculating (coitus interruptus). You then ejaculate into a clean sample cup. This method can be used after a vasectomy to test for the presence of sperm, but other methods will likely be recommended if you are testing for infertility. You can also collect a semen sample during sex by using a condom. If you use a regular condom, you will need to wash it thoroughly before using it to remove any powder or lubricant on it that might kill sperm. You may also be given a special condom that does not contain any substance that kills sperm (spermicide). After you have ejaculated, carefully remove the condom from your penis. Tie a knot in the open end of the condom and place it in a container that can be sealed in case the condom leaks or breaks. If you collect the semen sample at home, the sample must be received at the laboratory or clinic within 1 hour. Keep the sample out of direct sunlight and do not allow it to get cold or hot. If it is a cold day, carry the semen sample container against your body to keep it as close to body temperature as possible. Do not refrigerate the semen sample. Since semen samples may vary from day to day, 2 or 3 different samples may be evaluated within a 3-month period for accurate testing. A semen analysis to test the effectiveness of a vasectomy is usually done 6 weeks after the vasectomy.
How It Feels
Producing a semen sample does not cause any discomfort. However, you may feel embarrassed about the method used to collect it. If masturbation is against your religious beliefs, discuss alternate methods of collection with your health professional.
There are no risks associated with collecting a semen sample.
A semen analysis measures the amount of semen a man produces and determines the number and quality of sperm in the semen sample. Results of a semen analysis are usually available within a day. Normal values may vary from lab to lab.
Low or Absent Sperm Count
Certain conditions may be associated with a low or absent sperm count. These conditions include orchitis, varicocele, Klinefelter syndrome, radiation treatment to the testicles, or diseases that can cause shrinking (atrophy) of the testicles (such as mumps). If a low sperm count or a high percentage of sperm abnormalities are found, further testing may be done. Other tests may include measuring hormones, such as testosterone, luteinizing hormone (LH), follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), or prolactin. A small sample (biopsy) of the testicles may be needed for further evaluation if the sperm count or motility is extremely low.
What Affects the Test
Factors that can interfere with your semen analysis or the accuracy of the results include:
- Medicines, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), male and female hormones (testosterone, estrogen), sulfasalazine, nitrofurantoin, and some chemotherapy medicines.
- Caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and smoking tobacco.
- Herbal medicines, such as St. John’s wort and high doses of echinacea.
- A semen sample that gets cold. The sperm motility value will be inaccurately low if the semen sample gets cold.
- Exposure to radiation, some chemicals (such as certain pesticides or spermicides), and prolonged heat exposure.
- An incomplete semen sample. This is more common if a sample is collected by methods other than masturbation.
- Not ejaculating for several days. This may affect the semen volume.