Forget Periods: Most Men Barely Understand Their Own Sperm Health

It’s hardly a secret at this point that most cisgender men know nothing about periods. As if that weren’t cringe-worthy enough, it appears most men barely understand how their own sperm works.

A new report from Carrot Fertility and Legacy explored how well the average American understands sperm health and fertility for people with penises. To gauge this, researchers conducted a digital survey of 2,983 adults ages 18–65 during November 2022. Participants were asked to indicate their age, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other demographic factors. The results are pretty shocking: It turns out more half of men are very misinformed about how common behaviors and lifestyle choices can affect their sperm.

Among male respondents, a staggering 70 percent had no idea that their fertility declines with age, or overestimated the age when it begins to dip. (It decreases measurably after age 30). Less than half failed to identify drinking alcohol (43 percent) and smoking cigarettes (47 percent) as factors that can negatively impact their sperm health. (The American Society of Reproductive Medicine considers the latter a “leading risk factor” for male infertility.)

But wait, there’s more. One-fourth of male respondents earnestly believed reducing how frequently they masturbate — a practice sometimes called “semen retention” — can benefit their fertility. In reality, this is detrimental to sperm and prostate health.

Alas, the misconceptions weren’t limited to one gender. Large swaths of men and women downplayed the effects of male-factor infertility for couples who want to conceive. One in 10 respondents believed it plays “little to no role” in getting pregnant, which is blatantly false. Case-in-point: Only one in four men who were trying to conceive said they had screened their sperm for potential fertility issues.

In a statement, Asima Ahmad, MD, MPH, FACOG, co-founder and chief medical officer of Carrot Fertility, said the report indicates a need for “an extraordinary amount of education” about sperm health and male fertility.

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“This is slowly starting to change, but for a long time, there has been a lack of conversation and education around the topic of men and fertility,” Ahmad tells SheKnows. “The focus has largely been on women since they are born with their eggs, and over time the quantity and quality decline, so the chance of pregnancy goes down, and the risk of miscarriage goes up. But men generate millions of new sperm every day, so the impact of age on fertility is not as strong as it is in [women], and therefore, many times, not discussed.”

The report comes on the heels of another sperm-related study from last November, which tracked the decline of the global sperm count between 1973 and 2018. Apparently, it’s dropped more than 50 percent over that 45-year span. This is significant since sperm quantity and concentration are key fertility indicators for people with penises.

The good news? The mean sperm concentration for men in 2018 — 57.1 million swimmers per milliliter of ejaculate, according to the aforementioned report — is still above what the World Health Organization considers average.

These masturbation positions prove you don’t need a partner to have a good time in bed:

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