Here is a fact every man should know about infertility: According to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, the organization responsible for keeping track of success rates at infertility clinics across the country, the male partner is either the sole cause or a contributing cause of infertility in approximately 40 percent of infertile couples.

A Semen Analysis is an Important Part of Diagnosis

That makes a man’s sperm sample one of the most important contributions to an action plan that will allow a couple to take the fastest assisted reproduction path to successful conception. In my case, an unusually low count fast tracked us to IVF fairly quickly.

Sadly, we had wasted six months before that on timed intercourse experiments that had little to no chance of working because, in my ignorant bliss, I was 100% positive there would be nothing wrong with my reproductive plumbing. My wife had known medical issues that could contribute to infertility, and I was confident I could overcome them with my superior manhood.

Knowing the specifics of your problem will also allow you to ask intelligent questions about the limits of the clinic you are going to. We did not learn until we flew to a clinic that was ranked in the top 5 for success rates with severe male factor infertility that my male sperm could not produce a viable embryo. The advanced analysis available at the clinic we ultimately chose was able to overcome this problem by carefully analyzing and selecting the sperm with a Y chromosome that produces a female birth.

Had we found out about this issue earlier in our infertility journey, we could have saved thousands of dollars, perhaps avoided the pain of several miscarriages, and not put Lisa’s body through a full six years of manipulation simply because our infertility doctor didn’t have the resources to overcome my particular sperm challenge. The point: once you know the types of challenges you have from your sample, be sure to ask the doctor at the consult what type of experience they have overcoming them.

The Components of a Sperm Sample

I was shocked when I learned how many different components there are to a sperm sample. The most well known is the sperm count, which is the estimated number of sperm cells in your semen sample. The more you have, the better chance one of them is going to make it to an egg to get the baby making process going.

Motility is the next most important: the healthiest sperm swim forward. Having a gazillion sperm that don’t know how to find an egg won’t do much good, and in some cases the sperm may be slow swimmers, or not be swimming at all.

Volume (concentration) is also important because the sperm need enough fluid to swim in to get to the woman’s reproductive tract where the egg is waiting to be fertilized. If there is too little, it’s like a bunch of fish washed up on shore - they aren’t going anywhere.

Morphology was something I also had problems with. You want to have that nice handsome tadpole looking version. In my case, I had double-headed, pinheaded, and sometimes flat headed sperm that were not going to be productive for anything but a microscopic circus freak show.

These are some of the primary parameters, but depending on how many cycles you’ve failed, or how many challenges you have, the doctors may need to analyze pH, viscosity, liquefaction time, fructose, white blood cells and vitality to make extra adjustments to the treatment protocol that is ultimately chosen to give you the highest odds of conception success.

One piece of advice for that first sperm sample: do it at the clinic, or stay at a hotel near the clinic so you have some privacy without someone working the door or hearing voices outside in the lobby. Make sure the ejaculate - especially the first squirt - gets into the cup. This is tougher than it sounds. And you’ll want to be someplace where you can lie down after the cup is filled, because on demand orgasms can produce quite a head rush (no pun intended).