Sperm motility is a phrase you’ll often hear thrown around when it comes to sperm analysis – and it’s all about how fast your swimmers are moving.
When it comes to fertility, “slow and steady wins the race” isn’t always the case, as for sperm, speed is the name of the game. Low sperm motility is one of the most common causes of male factor infertility, so what exactly is it, and are there ways that you can improve your motility?
What is sperm motility?
Sperm motility is simply the speed at which your swimmers are moving. It’s measured by the percentage of sperm which are actually motile (AKA moving), and the progressive forward speed. There are three types of sperm motility:
1) Progressive motility (PR) – sperm that swim actively towards the egg in a straight line, or large circles – this is what we want to see!
2) Non-progressive motility (NP) – sperm that don’t travel in straight lines, or swim in small tight circles – this isn’t great, but can often be improved.
3) Immotility (IM) – the sperm has no movement – this can potentially be bad news for conception and assisted fertility treatments might be needed.
How does sperm motility impact fertility?
In conception, timing is everything. Firstly, you need to understand the fertile window. This is the time – only a few days – each month where it’s truly possible for a woman to get pregnant. This is the day before ovulation, the day of ovulation itself and for about a day after ovulation. You can identify your fertile window by using female hormone trackers – like the incredible one from Mira Fertility.
Because this window is fairly short, time is of the essence and sluggish sperm can significantly impact your baby-making plans!
To get through the cervical mucus and reach the egg, sperm needs progressive motility that will allow them to move at least 25 micrometres per second. That might not seem like the kind of speed that’s going to get you in pole position in F1. But it’s pretty speedy when you think how small sperm cells are!
Fertility is often a bit of a numbers game, so you want as many sperm as possible to be moving at an optimum speed. That’s going to increase your chances of one healthy sperm cell making it to the egg successfully.
What is a normal range?
Everyone’s body works a little differently, and there’s a pretty big range for sperm motility. According to the World Health Organisation, the healthy range for the percentage of sperm cells with any motility (progressive or non-progressive) is above 40% and the range for sperm cells with just progressive motility is above 32%. So, even having below half of your sperm actively moving is pretty normal.
Low sperm motility is diagnosed when less than 32% of the sperm are able to move efficiently. Once it reaches that point, it could become a factor in any fertility struggles you are facing.
What causes poor sperm motility?
A lot of things can cause low sperm motility, and many cases of bad motility go unexplained. It can be down to genetic variations, underlying medical conditions, or lifestyle choices and experiences.
Smoking, for example, takes a big toll on sperm motility. We’re well aware of how smoking harms the lungs, throat and heart, but tobacco smoking has also been linked to low sperm motility and overall decreased sperm quality. Research also shows that your diet can have a massive impact on the speed of your sperm, as well as the quality.
Testicular damage through medical conditions or physical trauma can also lower motility. This may be through infection, injury, testicular cancer or a result of surgery. Research tells us that men with a varicocele are more likely to have lower overall motility than men without.
How can I find out about my sperm motility?
It used to be that you could only find out about your sperm motility after an awkward trip to the local fertility clinic and a date with a cup in a doctor’s room. Now, testing your sperm can be done from the comfort of your own home with an ExSeed testing kit.
The ExSeed test will measure the total amount of sperm cells moving forward in your sample, giving you a clear picture of your sperm motility. (And when we say clear, you’ll literally be able to see them moving on your phone screen!) You also won’t be kept waiting anxiously for an answer, as it only takes 15 minutes to get results.
“When you want to estimate how good your sperm sample is, you need to look at how many moving sperm cells you have in the sample (“total motile sperm cells” which is the best way to describe sperm quality). Sperm motility and concentration can not stand alone. Therefore ExSeed presents the test result by telling you how many moving sperm cells your semen contains.”
Dr Fatin Willendrup, Head of Medical Affairs at ExSeed Health
Can you improve sperm motility?
The great news is that in many cases, it is possible to improve your sperm motility!
The easiest thing you can do to tackle low sperm motility, is to take a good look at your lifestyle. Are you smoking? Drinking too much? Having takeaways every other night? All of these bad habits can put a dent in your sperm’s speedometer. However, sperm regenerates around every 72 days. If you make healthy changes, you could see an improvement in around 2-3 months.
We know it’s not always easy to get started on a healthy life overhaul. Our ExSeed app not only tells you about your sperm health, but also provides options and expert guidance on making healthy lifestyle choices, tailored to you.
What are my options if I can’t improve my motility?
Whilst a healthy lifestyle can often improve your sperm health – sometimes, it’s not so simple. But this doesn’t mean that conception is impossible with immotile sperm.
Artificial insemination (IUI) is a viable option if the fertility issues are mainly on the male side. This is where the man provides his sperm, and it’s inserted directly into the uterus. Overall half of women get pregnant over the first six cycles of IUI, so the outlook is pretty good – but requires time and patience. Importantly, you will need a total motile sperm count of at least 5 million motile sperm cells in the ejaculate in general (Depends on clinics).
Another option is In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), usually chosen if there are fertility issues in both partners. This is where an egg and sperm are taken and mixed in a laboratory. If the eggs become fertilised, the embryos are given a few days to develop before the strongest one(s) are inserted into the uterus.
IVF has a higher rate of success than IUI, but is a more invasive and expensive procedure. IVF can have up to 32% success rate per transfer, but this rate will depend on the age of the woman and the causes of infertility.
Even if these look disappointing, remember that healthy couples only have a 20% chance of getting pregnant each month. And assisted fertility treatments help thousands of people become parents every year!
Whether you’re at the start of your fertility journey or have been trying for a while, it’s a good idea to get to know your swimmers. If low sperm motility is holding you back, then there’s many routes you can take to get your sperm speed a boost so it doesn’t slow down your route to fatherhood.
The first step we recommend is testing your sperm from the comfort of your home with an ExSeed kit! Improve your motility with advice tailored to you, and take control of your fertility journey.