Sperm production and quality
Unlike women, men continue to make reproductive cells or gametes throughout life. Sperm production takes place in the testicle and is estimated to take about 50 - 70 days. When the production of sperm is complete the sperm are transported to the epididymis where they will remain stored until the next ejaculation. Prolonged storage reduces the quality of the sperm, so more frequent ejaculations can increase male fertility. Once ejaculated sperm can typically survive for 2 days, although under ideal circumstances they may stay alive for up to 5 days.
Several lifestyle factors can affect sperm quality. Alcohol, obesity, excessive caffeine use and any smoking all affect the health of the sperm. In addition, with age there is an increased chance of genetic abnormalities in the sperm. Older men also have lower sperm counts, but sperm production never stops completely.
1: epididymis, 2: head of epididymis, 3: lobules of epididymis, 4: body of epididymis, 5: tail of epididymis, 6: duct of epididymis, 7: deferent duct (vas deferens).
A sperm with a normal shape is shown on the left.
A semen analysis is best performed after 2 - 3 days of
abstinence. The lab scientist will look at several characteristics, but the
main ones are the sperm count, the forward movement of the sperm and their
shape. It is also important to make sure that the sample is checked for the
presence of sperm antibodies. A normal semen analysis is reassuring but does not rule out
a male infertility problem. Sometimes sperm cannot fertilise the egg and this
is something that can't be detected on a semen analysis.