What is a semen analysis?

Also known as a sperm count test, a semen analysis is used to determine the health and viability of your sperm. An analysis of your semen measures three key factors of sperm health:

  1. The amount of sperm  
  2. The shape of the sperm – sperm morphology
  3. How the sperm move – sperm motility

Often, a single semen analysis will not be sufficient to determine the quality and amount of sperm in the sample, meaning two or even three analyses may be required. This is because sperm count can vary on a daily basis, so an average result from a group of tests often provides the clearest result.

Why do I need a semen analysis?

The most common reason to undergo a semen analysis is when you and your partner are struggling to conceive. An analysis can determine if the difficulty in conception is coming from you  – as a result of a low sperm count or sperm dysfunction – or from your partner. In around 50% of couples experiencing difficulty conceiving, the cause involves the male.

A semen analysis is also performed after a vasectomy to determine if the procedure has been successful. If there is no sperm found in the semen sample, the vasectomy will be classed as a success. Medical professionals advise a semen analysis once each month for three months after the procedure.

How should I prepare for a semen analysis?

To ensure the most accurate result in your semen analysis, you should:

  1. Avoid drinking alcohol or caffeine for a minimum of 2 days before you provide your sample. Ideally , avoid both for 5 days before
  2. Avoid ejaculation for 72 hours prior to providing your sample
  3. Stop taking any herbal supplements

Some medication and substances can affect your sperm count, so if you are taking prescribed medication or you smoke, ensure you discuss this with your doctor before you provide your sample.

The results of your sample can be affected by factors including:

  1. Providing a sample when you’re ill
  2. Providing a sample when you’re stressed
  3. Semen coming into contact with spermicide
  4. Lab technician error

How is a semen sample analysed?

A doctor reviewing your sample will consider a number of factors including:

  1. The shape of your sperm – if over 50% of sperm in your sample are abnormally shaped, you have  a higher risk of infertility. The test will check for abnormalities in the head, midsection and tail of the sperm. Sperm will also be checked to see if it is immature, as this may result in the sperm being unable to effectively fertilise the egg, meaning conception will be difficult
  2. Sperm motility – in a normal sample, over 50% of sperm must move normally an hour after ejaculation. Sperm motility is essential for conception as the sperm must travel to the egg to fertilise it. Sperm movement is graded between 0 – 4, with 0 indicating no movement and 4 indicating good movement
  3. Sperm count – also known as sperm density, a normal sample should have between 20 million and 200 million sperm. A lower count means conception will be more difficult
  4. Semen volume – a normal sample should measure at least 2 millilitres. A low volume could mean there is a low amount of sperm available
  5. pH level – the ideal level is between 7.2 and 7.8. A level higher than 8.0 could indicate an infection, whilst a count lower than 7.0 could signify blocked ducts  
  6. Liquefaction – semen should ideally liquify in 15 – 30 minutes. If liquefaction happens sooner or later than this timeframe, fertility could be affected
  7. Appearance – healthy sperm should be grey/white and opalescent in appearance. A red/brown colour could indicate an infection, whilst yellow could could be result of jaundice or a side effect of medication

Sperm which is found to be abnormal will mean conception is more difficult. An abnormal result could be due to:

  1. Infertility
  2. Genetic defects
  3. Infection
  4. Hormone imbalance
  5. Disease such as diabetes

Can I do a semen analysis at home?

You can take a semen test at home, but this will only test sperm count, not shape or motility. If you are concerned about your fertility, a full semen analysis is advisable as this will provide the clearest insight into your fertility.

If the results of your analysis are abnormal, you are likely to be referred to a fertility specialist.