What’s It Like to Do a Semen Analysis for Infertility?

Semen Analysis for Infertility

So your doctor wants you (or your partner) to undergo a semen analysis for infertility, huh? If you’ve never given a sperm sample before, you’re probably imagining all kinds of embarrassing and/or awkward scenarios. Will a random stranger accidentally burst in at a critical moment? Will you be able to “make the magic happen” under pressure? Will it be exactly like that scene at the sperm bank in Road Trip? (Spoiler alert: no, it’s nothing like that.)

Chances are, if you’re facing infertility and your doc has asked for a semen analysis, he or she’s got a pretty good reasonthere’s a lot that can be learned from that precious cup of bodily fluids, so it’s definitely worth going through the process even if you don’t totally love the idea. But relax: a semen analysis is not as bad as you think. Here’s everything you need to know.

Why do I have to do a semen analysis?

The most obvious reason is because you’re dealing with infertility issuesmale factor infertility is found in 40% of couples struggling to conceive, so a semen sample is the best way to determine if something’s up with the quality of your sperm. But Dr. Mark Trolice, reproductive endocrinologist at Fertility CARE: The IVF Center in Orlando, Florida, says there are some other possible reasons for needing to give a semen sample, like if:

  • You’re trying to become a sperm donor
  • You want to freeze your sperm for future insemination or conception
  • You’re going to be away during a planned fertility treatment cycle (like if your wife is undergoing in vitro fertilization while you’re deployed with the military)
  • You’ve had a vasectomy but want to make sure there’s no remaining sperm in your ejaculate

Will it be like in the movies?

Well…yes and no. Basically, you do have to set up shop in a private room at the fertility clinic and manually stimulate yourself until your efforts are, you know, fruitful. Clinic staff will give you a sterile collection cup to fill up with ejaculated sperm. Remember, they see this kind of thing every daythere’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed about what you’re doing.

Now, as far as successfully setting off the fireworks show, there’s a certain amount of flexibility in how you go about it. Dr. Trolice says that usually your partner can go into the room with you to help out or make things less awkward, and of course there are always helpful materials available if you need them.

If you’re still totally stressed out about the idea of a) manual stimulation or b) ejaculating in a semi-public place, there may be some options to get around those obstacles, too. In some cases, a couple can use a special condom during intercourse at home to collect semen (but it can’t just be any old condom, because regular ones might contain lubricants or other residues that can kill sperm).

If you go this routeor just want to collect your sample at home through masturbationyou’ll need to be able to rush your semen down to the clinic within 30-45 minutes, says Dr. Trolice. Any longer than that and you risk affecting the sample; if it gets too cold, for example, the motility of your sperm could slow down and skew your results.

What am I going to learn from this?

According to Dr. Trolice, there are four things your doctor will be looking for in your sample:

  1. Volume, or the amount of fluid you produced. Typically, about 1 ½ to 2 milliliters or more of semen will give you an adequate total number of sperm.
  2. Density, or the amount of sperm per milliliter of semen.
  3. Motility, or how many sperm are moving around, and forward, in the sample (and how well they’re moving forward).
  4. Morphology, or the size and shape of your sperm (the Mayo Clinic says you want sperm with an oval head and straight tail, i.e. sperm that can successfully penetrate an egg).

In 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a new set of guidelines for a normal sperm analysis; in order to be considered fertile, semen should have at least 15 million sperm per milliliter, a motility of 40% or more, and a morphology of 4% or more. Dr. Trolice warns patients to take these guidelines with a grain of salt, though.

“It’s important to know that just because your numbers are below the cutoff, that doesn’t mean you can’t father a child or will definitely need to do IVF,” he says. In some cases, a patient might be referred to a urologist or possibly considered for hormone therapy or surgery if the problem can be corrected.

Your feelings about it are totally normal

Look, we know you probably don’t want to do a semen analysis, but if you’re struggling with the possibility that you could have male factor infertility or worried that you’ll receive abnormal test results, know that those feelings are 100% normaland it’s okay to find someone to talk to about it. Until then, remember that this kind of thing happens all the time…and is pretty much always less eventful than it was for Seann William Scott.

Sarah Bradley

Sarah Bradley is a freelancer writer from Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and three sons. Her reported features and personal essays in the parenting and women's health spheres have appeared at On Parenting from The Washington Post, Real Simple, Women's Health, Parents, Lifehacker's Offspring, and Romper, among others.