Understanding fertility in men
Conceiving a healthy baby depends on a number of factors, including healthy sperm. In fact, this can be the biggest issue after a woman’s age. Male factor infertility affects around half of all infertile couples, so it is important to understand how the male reproductive system works.
The good news is that the most common causes of male infertility are easily diagnosed and successfully bypassed with effective fertility treatments including IVF with Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
Sperm production starts in the testes, where the hormone testosterone is also produced. An average of 100 million sperm are produced every day in healthy young men. After sperm are produced, they will need to travel along a long channel system starting at the epididymis, maturing along the way, before exiting via ductal structures called vas deferens and the urethra.
The entire process of sperm production and maturation takes just under three months. Any serious illness may affect sperm production for up to three months.
A sperm consists of the head, midpiece and tail sections. To successfully fertilise an egg, the sperm will need to have good motility (be able to move its tail) to propel itself through cervical mucus to then travel through the uterus and fallopian tube to reach the egg. It will also need to be normally shaped in order to penetrate the outer shell of the egg to deliver the genetic package contained in its head.
What causes infertility?
Infertility is defined as a couple not conceiving after 12 months of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.
Female age is the most significant factor affecting a couple’s chance of conceiving. In 40% of infertile couples, the cause of infertility is attributed to a sperm factor. In another 40% of infertile couples, the cause of infertility is found within the female reproductive system, such as ovulation failure, tubal disease or endometriosis. One third of all infertile couples will have a combination of female and male factor infertility.