Sperm collection: what you need to know (an article for the men)

Sperm collection


Some might say you have it easy compared to what your partner has to go through. After all, you don’t have to deal with daily injections, daily hospital visits, hormones pumped into your body or “dildocams” up your vagina. (I don’t even know if you can imagine what that feels like; it’s nowhere near as pleasant as you might think.) But your role is hardly a breeze, either – and we could all do with acknowledging that more than we do.

Besides being the Moral Support Person, Captain Injectioner, Chief Handholder and Receiver of Rants, you have to jizz into a cup a fair few times (some for testing, some for egg fertilisation) – and you may well find it far more stressful than the penis-less among us might imagine. 

Below is some useful information about sperm collection for egg fertilisation (i.e. the day when your sperm is mixed with your partner's newly retrieved eggs) – although most of it is also relevant to sperm collection for testing (before IVF starts). First, though… 

Male-factor infertility is a separate topic

If male-factor infertility is the reason you're doing or considering IVF, you'll probably know about an IVF procedure called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which might give you a better chance of success. You might also be making lifestyle changes to improve the quality of your sperm (if doctors think it's worthwhile). I'll cover all this in a separate article soon. (Sign up to be notified when my article about male-factor infertility is ready.)

This article is for those of you who've had your sperm signed off as “good to go” by doctors – but you're still worried about sperm quality and/or the sperm collection process itself. 

Is it possible to improve my sperm quality if I HAVEN'T been diagnosed with fertility problems? 

If your sperm is fine and dandy, there are still a few things you can do to get them in tip-top condition. But you shouldn't feel the need to change your lifestyle considerably: your sperm analysis has shown nothing's wrong, so there's really no need for you to become a teetotal health nut. 

Here's how you can potentially improve the health (and number) of your sperm. I'll spare you the science, but a quick Google will explain everything. 

  • Have a healthy BMI. 
  • Stop smoking! (Most clinics make that a prerequisite for treatment anyway.)
  • Drink no more than two pints of beer or one large glass of wine per day. 
  • Keep cool. (Try not to do too many activities that generate heat down there. Hot tubs, cycling, wearing tight-fitting clothes and riding a motorbike are things you might want to cut down on.)
  • Don't worry (too much) about what you eat. A balanced diet will make sure you're getting the vitamins and minerals your body needs – so it makes sense to eat well anyway – but the odd takeaway or popcorn binge isn't worth fretting over. 
  • Chill out. Being stressed is rarely productive at the best of times, but it's a right bugger for procreation. Not only can it negatively affect your relationship, but severe stress may also limit sperm production. 

    I'm not suggesting that de-stressing is easy, but the first step is to be aware of when you're feeling stressed out: then you can try to do something about it. Google “how to reduce stress” for tips.  

Unlike women – who are born with all the eggs they'll ever have – men make a brand new batch of sperm every 70ish days. So really, you just need to do the above things for around three months before sperm collection. Again, though: your sperm is fine, so there's no need to go crazy with any of these suggestions. (Except the smoking one, because… seriously? You still smoke? Who does that anymore?)

There's one “rule” you SHOULD pay proper attention to, though… 

The one big rule of sperm collection

Your should abstain from ejaculating for three days before sperm collection (but no longer than seven days). 

This is a general rule for men who have “normal” sperm; your own doctor/clinic will tell you if they recommend you wait a different amount of time. By abstaining for three days, you'll have a high sperm count inside a nice decent volume of ejaculate. Abstaining for too much longer than three days means the sperm is likely to be less “potent”; there'll be a greater proportion of non-mobile or dead sperm inside the ejaculate.  

One final thing… the Royal Free Hospital in London says: “Evidence shows that semen parameters are optimised if you take at least 10–15 minutes to produce the sample” – which is a sentence that wins my “Most Arduous Euphemism Of The Year” award. What I think they mean is: “You’ll have better-quality sperm if you take your time masturbating before you ejaculate.”

Sperm collection for egg fertilisation: useful information for the day itself

Firstly, remember: your partner will be in the other room, under heavy sedation, with a needle puncturing her follicles inside her ovaries. I can almost guarantee that your experience will be better than hers

But that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy a glorious day-long wankathon, either. You’ll be busy worrying about your partner, for starters. And you might also have a bunch of concerns about the sperm collection itself.

Here are some answers to a few questions you might have:

I’d prefer to be at home for the sperm collection, then bring it in. Is that possible?

Most clinics will let you bring your sperm collection in from home if that’s what you’d prefer. You’ll be given instructions on what to do, plus a cup in which to collect the sperm and strict instructions on how – and when – to transport the collection to the clinic.

Some clinics don’t actually have facilities for sperm collection, so it’s possible you’ll have no choice but to do everything from home, anyway.

Can I bring my own “reading” material?

Yup! You’ll also be able to bring headphones if you need to blank out noises from the clinic/hospital.

Can I have my partner in the room with me?

Possibly – although the timing of her egg retrieval (if she’s having one) will have to be rejigged. Ask your clinic to see if they allow it.

What happens if I don’t get it all in the cup?

Most sperm lives in the first few drops, so it’s important to collect it. You’ll be given a fairly large cup for collection, and you should make sure it’s within easy reach. If you’re worried you missed some, mention it to the clinic and they’ll tell you what to do.  

How much semen are we talking here? It’s sounding like most men produce gallons of the stuff, but I don’t have much. Is something wrong with me?

Most men ejaculate around a teaspoon’s worth of sperm. Don’t worry about the size of the cup: you’re not meant to fill it!

What happens if I ejaculate in my sleep the night before sperm collection?

You won’t be the first, so don’t worry. It’s important that you tell the clinic, but they’ll probably ask you to go ahead with the sperm collection as planned.

Can I use lubrication for sperm collection?

Yes – but probably not an off-the-shelf one. Ask your clinic: they’ll be able to give you more information.

My religion doesn’t allow me to masturbate (or I find it difficult to ejaculate through masturbation). What can I do instead?

Masturbation is the preferred method of collection, but if you can’t for any reason, you can use a special condom that isn’t toxic to sperm and doesn’t contain spermicide.

Depending on the clinic and your particular circumstances, you’ll have sex at home before the egg retrieval, then pour the contents of the condom into the collection cup and take it to the clinic. You may be asked to do this a few weeks before egg collection (in which case your sperm will be cryopreserved until the day of egg collection), or on the day itself.

I’m still freaked out about sperm day, and I just don’t think I’ll be able to “perform” on demand. Helpppp!!!

Ask your doctor about providing a sperm sample in advance, which can then be frozen until egg retrieval day (when it will be thawed and mixed with your partner’s eggs). Sperm freezing will set you back a few hundred pounds, but it could well be worth it for the peace of mind.

Another great thing about sperm freezing is that you can provide the sample on a day when you’re definitely feeling healthy – unlike on the day of egg retrieval, when you could come down with a cold or all manner of other illnesses.

Free email: extra support for men

The IVF process isn’t easy on anyone – including you, the supportive partner. You’re expected to be “the rock” – mentally strong, positive, helpful and reassuring – even though you’re probably feeling as frustrated, desperate, upset and worried as your partner.

There aren’t many resources around to help the partner through IVF, but I’ve cobbled together some the best articles, guides and communities I could find.

Enter your email address to receive a list of them right away – and I'll keep you updated if/when I come across any others.

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