A lot of men have asked if frequent masturbation lowers sperm count or their fertility. The quick answer is no. However, if you are trying to conceive, there are a few tricks to optimize the number of healthy sperm that you ejaculate that can help increase your chances. Here’s a quick breakdown of how frequency of ejaculation affects sperm count and semen volume.
What happens to sperm when you ejaculate frequently?
Frequent ejaculation is a sign of a healthy sex drive and it is not uncommon for men to have sex or masturbate multiple times a day. Some men notice that if they ejaculate a couple of times in a 24-hour period that semen becomes more watery and begin to worry that they might run out sperm. Unlike women who have a set number of eggs from birth, men are constantly creating new sperm, so it is not possible to “run out” of sperm. But frequent ejaculation can influence the amount and the quality of both the semen and the sperm that comes out.
Semen is made of a several different fluids that come together during an ejaculation. Fluid from the testicle that contains sperm is joined with fluids from the seminal vesicles, prostate, and bulbourethral glands before exiting the body during an ejaculation. The bulk of the fluid is typically a thick yellowish substance that originates from seminal vesicles and is responsible for most of the characteristics we generally associate with semen (consistency, color, smell, etc). This fluid is generated slowly over time and is stored in pockets just above the prostate until ejaculation. The longer a man abstains from ejaculation the more these pockets will fill up causing bigger, thicker semen loads. In contrast, frequent ejaculations will cause the pockets to empty and therefore will be made up mostly of thinner, whitish fluid that comes directly from the prostate.
What about sperm? Healthy men make between 3-5 million sperm an hour on average. Sperm are formed in tiny tubes in the testicle called seminiferous tubules. Once they are fully formed, they get pushed into a long, coiled tube called the epididymis where they are stored until they are ejaculated out of the body. Inside the epididymis, sperm finish maturing as a series proteins help them become motile. The longer a man abstains from ejaculation, the more sperm he is likely to accumulate in the epididymis. However, if you are trying for a baby, you don’t want to store them up for too long. Motile sperm are like tiny engines that produce a molecular form of exhaust called reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS has been known to damage sperm cells and can impair their ability to swim or to fertilize an egg. Because of this, long periods of abstinence are associated with poor sperm health.
Optimal frequency of ejaculation when trying to conceive
To optimize the number of healthy sperm that come out, it is recommended that men who are trying to conceive have sex every 2 – 7 days. If you have a low sperm count, you might narrow that window to 3 – 4 days. Studies in healthy men show that on average semen volume is 70% higher and sperm count is 50% higher when men ejaculate every other day instead of every day. They also show that long periods of abstinence can impact sperm health and can cause sperm to not swim as well or even die.
Sperm can live inside the woman’s body for around 2-3 days. If both partners are healthy, having sex a couple times a week should ensure that there are plenty of healthy sperm present whenever ovulation happens.
There are several tools available for women to use to track their cycle and predict when ovulation will happen. You can improve your chances by having sex close to the time of ovulation. However, rigorous timing of sex while trying to conceive can cause stress, performance anxiety and sexual dysfunction for both men and women so it is important to create an open channel of communication about the process to help you both stay sane, happy and healthy while you are on the journey of creating a family together.
Masturbation with a purpose: giving the best sample during an IUI or IVF cycle
Assisted reproduction is weird. Injections, instructions NOT to have sex, making love to a plastic cup; all in the name of baby-making. With everything that the woman endures as part of an assisted reproductive cycle, there is a lot of pressure on the man to produce the best possible semen sample on the big day. Here are a few strategy tips to build your gameday plan for the superbowl of masturbation:
Talk to your doctor: If you are the quarterback, your doctor is the head coach. They have seen 100’s if not 1000’s of couples go through this and have great instincts about what you can do to optimize your sample on the big day. Based on your semen analysis results and the type of procedure you are doing, they should have advice to help you put a plan together. To make the most out of your conversation, do your best to be honest. If you think it will be too hard to abstain 5 days tell them that. If you really have a hard time collecting a sample in the clinic, be honest about that. Talking through the issues will help everyone feel more comfortable with the process.
Put em on ice: Many clinics offer the option to freeze a backup sample. This can go a long way to taking off pressure on the big day. It also gives you the chance to do a practice run and see how well it works for you and your sperm. Every sample should get analyzed and you can request a copy of the report to see how abstinence and collection technique influenced semen parameters compared to your baseline semen analysis report.
Rules for thumb regarding abstinence period: A good rule of thumb is longer abstinence periods are generally associated with higher sperm counts, lower motility and shorter abstinence periods are associated with lower counts and higher motility. If you have a high count (above 70 million) you are probably best to have a short abstinence period (2-3 days) if you have a lower count, it may be better to increase your abstinence period to 5-7 days.
Enjoy yourself, it will help: There is evidence to suggest that increased sexual desire can improve the quality of a semen sample. Finding strategies to be more relaxed and excited while collecting your sample can actually help. So in the name of science and baby-making, get out there and spank that monkey.
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This doesn't need to be a taboo subject left in a closet, nor do men need to go through this alone. Education and community are key elements to improving health. Don't cook your balls is a space for us to share science and experience advance the state of male reproductive health care.