It’s not uncommon to feel a bit uncomfortable about collecting a semen sample for sperm analysis. Many men describe the experience as awkward and even a little embarrassing. The conditions can be less than ideal: you’re performing “on demand,” most likely in an anonymous, sterile environment, with the clinic staff “knowing” that you’re doing something that’s normally private, and you’re handing it over once you’re done. Just keep in mind that it’s science. And it’s something that the nurses and staff at your clinic see multiple times a day, 365 days a year.
How to Prepare
- As part of the fertility workup, you’ll make an appointment to either produce your sample in the office or drop it off at the clinic or lab after you produce a sample at home. With sperm, timing is of the essence, so plan accordingly.
- You’ll need to refrain from any sexual activity for at least two days, but not more than five to seven days before your sample is collected. This means no sex or no ejaculation of any kind, including masturbation. Each physician may have their own criteria for abstinence so be sure to check with your clinic. Longer or shorter periods of abstinence may result in a lower sperm count, or decreased sperm motility or movement. Samples produced after two days of abstinence will usually have the highest numbers of motile sperm with the greatest forward velocity when compared to samples produced after shorter or longer periods of abstinence. Some men think saving up all their sperm for the day of their test is what’s preferred but waiting too long between ejaculation is a big mistake: older sperm begins to die if ejaculations are infrequent and the percentage of live sperm decreases with increased abstinence.
- You’ll also need to give up some (potentially) unhealthy habits. It is best to limit smoking, drinking, and of course drugs during the 10 days preceding your sperm collection (you may want to consider these lifestyle changes even further in advance).
- Specific things that could affect the quality of your sperm sample include:
- Medication, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), male and female hormones (testosterone, estrogen), sulfasalazine, nitrofurantoin, and some chemotherapy medication.
- Caffeine, alcohol, cocaine, marijuana, and tobacco. Some drugs such as anabolic steroids can affect sperm production.
- Herbal medicines, such as St. John’s wort and high doses of echinacea.
Collecting the Sample
Masturbation is, most likely, the way you’ll collect your semen specimen. If you have severe male infertility resulting in few or no sperm, you may require a surgical procedure such as microsurgical epididymal sperm aspiration (MESA) or testicular sperm aspiration (TESA). Most doctors recommend you ejaculate directly into a provided sample cup and not use a condom. If you must use a condom, your lab will provide a special semen collection condom (that does not contain spermicide).
There are a few rules for collecting your semen sample:
- First, take a shower and start out clean. Then, right before you get down to business, double check to make sure your hands and penis are clean. Wash them with soap and then rinse them with a lot of water.
- You need to be a purist. You shouldn’t use any lubricant unless provided by the clinic. This includes saliva. And, as mentioned, don’t collect your semen in a condom (the spermicidal agents will alter the results of the analysis).
- You will need to ejaculate directly into a sterile container provided by your clinic or lab. Avoid touching the inside of the cup and try to get the first part of your ejaculation in the cup, as it is thought to be the most sperm-rich. If any semen spills, do not attempt to transfer it to your cup.
- As soon as you’ve collected your sample, put the lid on your container. Make sure your name, date of birth, time and date of your sample is clearly printed on the cup. Many clinics will put a sticker from your medical chart on the cup and lid. Be sure to check that it is correct.
Transporting Your Semen
If you’ve collected your sample outside of your clinic, you need to get it to the laboratory within one hour after ejaculation. Sperm does not have a long life outside of the body or in environments with fluctuating temperatures. Delays in delivering semen and exposure to various temperatures will result in lower overall motile sperm count and poor semen cryopreservation.
Your semen sample should be kept as close to body temperature as possible. The sperm motility value will be inaccurately low if the semen sample gets too cold or if it gets too hot.
Keep your specimen container upright in a plastic bag, with the lid securely tightened. The specimen should not be placed in any purse, pocket or briefcase.
Some clinics will require that you produce the sperm sample on site to make sure that you are able to produce a sample for a fertility cycle and to get the best possible sample.
Most likely you will be in a room that is meant for sample collection at your clinic. Here’s a head’s up: Most of these rooms (sometimes, it’s the clinic bathroom) are pretty, well . . . uninspiring. Just know this in advance. And you may want to bring your own porn, your smartphone, or a Victoria’s Secret catalog. By many accounts, the selection is often outdated.