Reasons for Low Sperm Count and Male Infertility

These reasons for low sperm count and male infertility are from an evolutionary biologist. He explains how evolution affects sperm production and motility, and offers advice for infertile couples.

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“The rate of human infertility is higher than we should expect it to be,” says Dr. Oren Hasson of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology. “By now, evolution should have improved our reproductive success rate. Something else is going on.”

Here are his thoughts on the reasons for low sperm count and male infertility…

Reasons for Low Sperm Count

About 10% of all couples planning to get pregnant and hoping for a baby have fertility problems. Environmentalists say pollution is to blame and psychiatrists point to our stressful lifestyles…and this evolutionary biologist has a explanation.

The reproductive organs of men and women are currently involved in an evolutionary arms race, reports Dr Hasson in his new study. A man’s sperm count, production, and motility is affected by thousands of years of evolution.

Favoring the “super sperm”

Women’s bodies have forced sperm to become more competitive, rewarding the “super sperm” — the strongest, fastest swimmers — with penetration of the egg. In response, men are over-producing these aggressive sperm, producing many dozens of millions of them to increase their chances for successful fertilization.

“…over time women’s and men’s bodies fine tune to each other,” says Dr Hasson. “Sometimes, during the fine-tuning process, high rates of infertility can be seen. That’s probably the reason for the very high rates of unexplained infertility in the last decades.”

How the timing of “super sperm” affects fertility levels

The first sperm to enter and bind with the egg triggers biochemical responses to block other sperm from entering. This blockade is necessary because a second penetrating sperm would kill the egg. However, in just the few minutes it takes for the blockade to complete, today’s over-competitive sperm may be penetrating, terminating the fertilization just after it’s begun.

Reasons for Low Sperm Count
Reasons for Low Sperm Count

Women’s bodies, too, have been developing defenses to this condition, known as “polyspermy.” “To avoid the fatal consequences of polyspermy, female reproductive tracts have evolved to become formidable barriers to sperm,” says Dr. Hasson. “They eject, dilute, divert and kill spermatozoa so that only about a single spermatozoon gets into the vicinity of a viable egg at the right time.”

Any small improvement in male sperm efficiency is matched by a response in the female reproductive system, Dr. Hasson says. “This fuels the ‘arms race’ between the sexes and leads to the evolutionary cycle going on right now in the entire animal world.” And, this is one reason for low sperm count.

Dr. Hasson, who also works as a marriage counselor, says that infertile marriages can be stressful, and advises infertile couples to openly communicate about all their options and seek counseling if necessary.

If you’re concerned about sperm count, motility, and production, you might find Tips for Improving Male Fertility helpful.

I welcome your thoughts about these reasons for low sperm count and motility – please comment below. I can’t offer advice for improving male fertility, but you may find it helpful to share your experience.

Source: American Friends of Tel Aviv University (2009, September 10). Infertility And The Battle Of The Sexes: Evolutionary Explanation For Today’s Fertility Problems?

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